Privacy

DEA Quietly Builds Its Network of License Plate Scanners

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We know when you are sleeping, we know when you're awake …

The Drug Enforcement Agency's scheme, along with two Utah sheriffs, to station license plate scanners along I-15 may have foundered under a hail of you-gotta-be-kidding-me raining down from state residents displeased over the prospect of their movements being casually monitored and stored away, but automotive privacy isn't exactly secure. First of all, dozens of local law Utah enforcement agencies, along with the Utah Highway Patrol and the Tax Commission, quietly adopted the nosy devices long before anybody got upset about the DEA's high-profile move. And second … well … the DEA just moved its sights south, to the border, and built on an existing network of cameras in at least four states with no muss or fuss.

Reports the Salt Lake Tribune:

Even before the DEA request, southwestern Utah had a concentration of license plate scanners. The St. George Police Department has its own scanner, while other police forces in that county are on a list of agencies that can borrow a car from the Utah State Tax Commission equipped with scanners. The drug task force that covers Iron and Garfield counties also has a license plate scanner it has used to build cases against people suspected of growing marijuana on public lands.

A Salt Lake Tribune review identified 47 police departments and county sheriffs who use license plate scanners or have permission to borrow the Tax Commission scanner cars. Statewide agencies, including the Utah Highway Patrol, also use the scanners.

The most extensive use of scanners is at BYU, where perhaps every license plate that rolls onto campus is documented.

I guess that will teach the DEA. Next time, they'll just install the cameras quietly so as not to upset the locals.

Whoops! Next time already happened. Reports CaliforniaWatch:

Clusters of what at first appear to be surveillance cameras have begun turning up in recent months on the Southwest border, and while some of the machines are merely surveillance cameras, others are specialized recognition devices that automatically capture license-plate numbers and the geographic location of everyone who passes by, plus the date and time.

The DEA confirms that the devices have been deployed in Arizona, California, Texas and New Mexico. It has plans to introduce them farther inside the United States.

Special Agent Ramona Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the DEA's Phoenix division, said the information collected by the devices is stored for up to two years and can be shared with other federal agencies and local police. She declined to say how many have been installed or where, citing safety concerns.

The "plans to introduce them farther inside the United States" illustrate a point I made not long ago, that "technology has progressed to the point where having identifying data fastened in plain view on a vehicle almost inevitably subjects us to tracking." As the network of cameras grows and becomes interconnected — and the DEA's Chief of Operations Thomas M. Harrigan testified (PDF) last year that "DEA and CBP are currently working together in order to merge existing CBP LPRs at the points of entry with DEA's LPR Initiative" — it's going to become increasingly difficult to travel with any degree of anonymity. The ACLU's Jay Stanley told CaliforniaWatch, "I think over time, we have to expect that they'll become more and more dense, to the point where they might be the equivalent of being tracked by GPS."

It's worth noting that the photo above, and other photos of camera installations, were taken by Terrence Bressi, an Arizona resident who started the Checkpoint USA blog to document his legal battle with the Tohono O'odham Police Department as well as the federal government over his arrest at a suspicionless roadblock operated as a joint fishing expedition by the locals, Immigration and Customs. He has since won his case and been awarded $210,000 — 3,451 days after the incident. Not surprisingly, he's a bit critical of government conduct in the border region, and its overall treatment of citizens.

I wonder if there are any stars next to his name in that license plate database.

NEXT: Killing California's Costly Death Penalty

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  1. Pretty ballsy putting those things in the middle of nowhere – where people shoot stuff that pisses them off.

  2. She declined to say how many have been installed or where, citing safety concerns.

    What if I decline to have my license plate scanned because of safety concerns?

    1. What safety concerns? How is knowing where these things are going to put anyone at risk?

      Now, the continued functionality of the devices may be put at risk, sure. (And thanks for the pic, HyR. Now I know what one looks like and will act, erm, accordingly).

      1. Destruction of property: not just for enviro-terrorists anymore.

        1. Hate to do this to ya, Tulpa, but:

          What is the difference between license-plate scanners, and warning people of impending speed traps?

          1. What’s the difference between green and up?

            1. Well, you seem to be okay with both, so maybe the problem is in the wording:

              If people warned about license-plate scanners, would they be as bad in your view as people who warn about speed traps?

              1. No, since the lack of a license plate scanner is unlikely to encourage lawbreaking like the lack of a speed enforcer does.

                1. But you said below it’s all about the money being made. “Motivations don’t matter”.

                  Why are you on the wrong side here, Tulpa?

                  1. I support deterring speed trap leakers for one reason, cops support it for another less wholesome one. So?

                    It’s very likely that cops support a lot of laws that I wouldn’t, also for less than wholesome reasons.

                    1. What’s “wholesome” about wasting police resources on arresting people who aren’t depriving people of property or liberty?

    2. They think the police not knowing exactly where everyone in the country is, or is going, at all times is an “officer safety” issue…

  3. And this is legal how?

    1. Fuck you, that’s how.

  4. This should definitely cut down on the number of drivers parking perpendicular to traffic.

  5. Safety concerns for the brave scanners who heroically spend 24/7/365 looking for terrists?

  6. If you are so concerned about the privacy of your car, maybe you shouldn’t have taken it out of your garage.

  7. If you take license plates off, they’ll just ID cars/driver’s faces instead… or just mine cell phone tower records and get the same info. One way or another, everything you do is going to be tracked in the next few decades.

  8. “I once said, “We will bury you,” and I got into trouble with it. Of course we will not bury you with a shovel. Your own working class will bury you.” That’s from our old friend Nikita Khrushchev.

    Land of the free and home of the brave?

    What a freak’n hoot THAT line is!

    1. Land of the free and home of the brave?

      It’s a question, not a statement of fact.

  9. What’s so disturbing is that there are Americans (police) who are fine with this sort of thing.

  10. Does that stuff that whites out your plate for the red light cameras work on these, too?

    Just, you know, idle curiousity.

    1. I don’t think it works on red light cameras.

      1. Business opportunity!

        1. Until cop cars have scanners on them that detect when the license plate on the car in front of them is “invisible”… and then, well, I hope you left your dog at home, because in many states blocking your license plate from RLC view is illegal.

          1. The only things cop cars should have on them are audio and visual recorders. Also, on the cops themselves. To record their every moment, live-streamed into storage and on a live cable-access feed.

            1. And the cops will be held in place by MAGNETS!

            2. Well, clearly it is much more important to spend millions on license plate readers to catch people’s driving routes than it is to mic and record every police officer… Otherwise, every police officer would have a dash cam/mic and a shoulder mic before this shit was bought.

              1. That wouldn’t work, Tulpa, unless the magnets were strong enough to immobilize human flesh.

                But it’s still a good idea to keep an eye on those people. You know, in case they decide to beat the shit out of an unarmed suspect just for the fuck of it, or make sexual advances to people they pull over for speeding or missing brake lights.

                1. A smart commenter like joe would have gotten that Simpsons reference, FIFY.

              2. “Otherwise, every police officer would have a dash cam/mic and a shoulder mic before this shit was bought.”

                I’m all for that. If they can record OUR activities, we damned well have a right to keep tabs on THEM.

    2. an LCD (electrochromic) glass in front of the plate works well. apply electricity and bam! opaque!

  11. I’m sure Tulpa will be along any moment to tell us that we are all being reactionary and over emotional about this.

    1. I’m not even sure why we’re talking about it, since Romney’s Swiss bank accounts did not create [JOBS].

      1. I have an odd habit; if possible, I let people know they have brake lights or other lights out on their vehicles.

        According to Tulpa’s take on the girl arrested for warning about speed traps, I’m a bad person for possibly depriving LEOs of much-needed ticket revenue/gold stars on their records come advancement time.

        I feel so… dirty.

        BTW, did Debbie Schultz’s offshore accounts create [JOBS]? Just curious what shrike and Tony will say about this.

        1. In that hypothetical, you’re not warning about law enforcement activity. You’re warning about the fact that a person is in violation of the law.

          The analogy for the speeding would be if you stood by the side of the road with a radar gun and held up a sign warning people that they were speeding if they were going over the limit. And I doubt anyone would take issue with you for that (and if they would, they shouldn’t).

          Not the same thing as giving speeders a sense of security that if there’s no one warning of a speed trap they can speed with impunity.

          1. Sorry, but I maintain the only reason cops get pissed/occasionally arrest people for warning about speed traps is simple loss of revenue and notches on their ticket-books.

            One fool I argued this with years ago, called it “obstruction of justice” – but then, he was the kind of twat that would make the right-wingiest Freeper look like a Socialist Party member.

            1. And the only reason those pharmaceutical companies develop medicines is because they want more money. So? Motivations don’t matter.

              1. So, it’s okay to arrest people who may prevent cops from writing speeding tickets. Got it.

                IMO, cops have much better things to do. Somewhere, there’s an actual crime being committed… or a Senator is walking the streets like he/she was an actual human being.

                1. Speeding is an actual crime. If the roads were privately owned they’d have speed limits then too.

                  1. Compared to rape, murder, armed robbery, and acts of Congress, speeding is right up there with “failure to remove yard-sale signs in a timely manner”.

                    1. So, if I talk an armed robber out of committing a robbery… should I be arrested for it?

                    2. If your means of doing so is telling him that the FBI knows about his plans and is laying in wait for him at the bank, yes.

                    3. If your means of doing so is telling him that the FBI knows about his plans and is laying in wait for him at the bank, yes.

                      Isn’t that being a “good citizen”, talking someone out of committing a crime? Shouldn’t we all try to talk someone out of doing something wrong if we have the chance?

              2. Not that there’s a difference between people voluntarily purchasing products from pharmaceutical companies and people being coerced into paying a fine for not obeying arbitrary numbers painted onto a sign.

                No difference at all.

                Exactly the same thing.

                1. Did all you guys get like a 200 on the SAT? Because you seem totally unaware of what an analogy is.

                  1. Leave the intelligence-level-based insults to Tony, Tulpa. Please.

                    1. It’s a demonstrated deficiency, over and over and over and over again in the comments here. I make an analogy and one of the usuals pops up out of the woodwork to say I’m “conflating” the things I’m making an analogy about.

                      Either there’s an understanding problem or a dishonesty problem. Pick one. (and I get plenty of fairly vulgar intelligence-related insults from all comers here, too, so step off the moral high horse).

                    2. Okay, I’ll spell it out:

                      Warning people about speed traps is a public service.

                      Gathering license-plate numbers – as the DEA is doing – is NOT a public service.

                      They’re both wrong, action-wise. The first, on a strictly local level; the second, a much larger future-police-state level.

                      And both disgusting.

                  2. I know what a dismally poor analogy is.

                    1. His analogy is fine:

                      The analogy for the speeding would be if you stood by the side of the road with a radar gun and held up a sign warning people that they were speeding if they were going over the limit. And I doubt anyone would take issue with you for that (and if they would, they shouldn’t).

                      It’s his reason for building the analogy that is based on pure assumption:

                      Not the same thing as giving speeders a sense of security that if there’s no one warning of a speed trap they can speed with impunity.

                      That’s just a bald assertion he pulls out of thin air with no evidence whatsoever.

                      He’s make a shitty argument for different reason than you assert.

                    2. You don’t think random enforcement is more of a deterrent than enforcement at known places and times?

                      You don’t need evidence for the negation of the absurd.

                    3. I have the same problem with DWI roadblocks.

                      So should you.

                    4. Private roads would have DWI roadblocks too — probably more of them — so there’s no inherent problem.

                      My issue with them is that they’re often used as fishing expeditions to justify searching vehicles.

                    5. Absurd is a good description of your assumptions. We finally agree.

          2. “In that hypothetical, you’re not warning about law enforcement activity. You’re warning about the fact that a person is in violation of the law.”

            Which is the same as warning about speed traps. In both cases, such warnings may deprive LEOs of easy ticket-writings.

            If one action is illegal, both should be illegal. By your logic, I mean.

    2. It must be incredibly boring for you guys having to deal with a rational, principled person who sticks to his philosophical guns.

      1. “guns”

        Is that a veiled threat, boy?

      2. By “philosophical guns” you mean tilting at straw men and moving the goal posts, correct?

      3. It would be boring if you were that. Instead we get the entertainment of a mediocre thinker who loves to pop-off and whine when his own idiotic words get thrown back in his face.

        Call me “glib.” Say we’re “ganging-up on you.”

        Your breath stinks of cop balls and we’re all sick of smelling it.

        1. Your breath stinks of cop balls and we’re all sick of smelling it.

          Hear hear!

          1. Ah, twice in one day…

            joe|12.11.08 @ 7:36PM|#|

            joe,

            You really are kinda slow aren’t you?

            No, I’m frequently complimented as being one of the more intelligent commenters here, unlike you. In case you didn’t notice, nobody understood what the hell you were talking about.

            1. Tulpa: Bele to joe’s Lokai.

            2. joe was one of the more intelligent commenters here. Out of context and with no link, it’s hard to say whether his comment was justified or not.

              1. Oh god I think I’m going to pass out this is so good. I can’t look away.

        2. Dude, he called himself rational and principled. You don’t get to see this level of delusion every day. I, for one, enjoy it tremendously. Even if it does smell like cop balls.

        3. Apparently the odor is so permeating that it shuts off the part of your brain responsible for responding with a rational, substantive argument, forcing you to utter only insults, grunts, and randomly-generated fallacy names.

          1. Oh man, this is too good. Do exactly what NutraSweet asked, again, but louder this time. Come on, Tulpy-poo. You know you can’t resist.

          2. “Teacher! That mean ol’ SugarFree insulted me! Boo-hoo!”

            1. If I were running to Matt Welch or Mike Alissi demanding that you guys be banned, that would be an appropriate analogy.

              I’m not. I can defend myself just fine, and it’s you and your palls who are dropping like flies around here, not I. Every time Warty drops in to say “Don’t feed the troll” or some similar nonsense in an attempt to isolate me he only confirms his irrelevance a little bit more.

              I don’t hold a grudge, though; any axis member who repents and accepts the ways of law+order libertarianism will be forgiven.

              1. There’s “law+order”, and there’s “unnecessary laws+rule by fear”.

              2. I don’t hold a grudge, though; any axis member who repents and accepts the ways of law+order libertarianism will be forgiven.

                Tulpa can get high sniffing his own farts. I hope someone tells the DEA. That he claims shouldn’t exist, yet is fine giving ever-expanding powers of surveillance to.

                1. They already had this power, it’s just easier now with technology.

                  If you don’t like the DEA, work to get rid of the DEA. Don’t hamper legitimate law enforcement with the bathwater.

                  1. legitimate law enforcement

                    Yet another assumption with no evidence, Keep ’em coming. Tell us how dumb we are again.

              3. Fuck, this is better than joe. Tulpa, you really are Bele. Your malignant delusion is fantastic. And the best part is, you are almost assuredly far, far more deluded, but are holding that back.

                Your mind must be exactly like Jonathan Pryce’s pathetic, delusional daydreams in Brazil. Fucking. Awesome.

                1. Holy shit, you can’t buy entertainment like this. See guys, filter most of the time, unfilter when you can tell he’s being incredibly stupid. It’s the best of both worlds.

                  1. You can’t buy this kind of entertainment. No, this is the kind you only get free.

                    Slay the dragons of the Axis, Tulpa! Wield your magic sword!

                    1. You can’t buy this kind of entertainment.

                      Stops copies me!

      4. Old Mexican was pretty boring to argue with. Haven’t seem him around.

        1. Yeah, but OM is a decent enough dude. Tulpa is just pure scum.

      5. Will you let me know when he shows up?

  12. Unclear on how this is worse than, say, a couple of cops standing by the side of the road writing license plate numbers down. The only way I can think of is that you’re less likely to be coerced into a search of your vehicle by a plate scanner.

    The libertarian Ludditism is getting seriously old.

    1. How about the cops *don’t* gather license-plate numbers?

    2. The libertarian Ludditism is getting seriously old.

      As is your conflation of destruction of police-state spy apparatus with the t-word.

      1. Actually, I was expressly saying it was not terrorism, since I said it wasn’t just for terrorists anymore.

      2. And unsurprisingly, Tonio, Tulpy-poo fails to get your point.

      3. Destruction of property: not just for enviro-terrorists anymore.

        OK, that can be parsed two ways. I parsed it in the way you didn’t intend.

    3. Oh, we’re all for technology, Tulpa; what we are *not* for, is the misuse of technology.

      And this DEA bullshit clearly falls in the latter category.

      1. Either there’s an understanding problem or a dishonesty problem. Pick one.

      2. If you’re OK with a bunch of officers standing on the side of the road taking down license plate numbers, but not OK with license plate scanners, you’re either not thinking things through or you’re anti-technology.

        1. Tulpy-poo, please tell me you’ll never stop being this retarded. It’s addictive. I’m getting exposed to such a high dose of your retardation that I might go cold turkey if you stop.

        2. If you’re OK with a bunch of officers standing on the side of the road taking down license plate numbers, but not OK with license plate scanners, you’re either not thinking things through or you’re anti-technology.

          More horseshit. The fact that they can scan plates of cars going pass at highway speeds and with heavy traffic make them nothing like an officer writing down plates. No human could do that. Combine that with the number of them (which would make for staffing levels the agencies couldn’t support if they were human officers and not machines) and your analogy is worthless.

          Please note that these reasons also make your defense of GPS tracking and red-light cameras equally worthless.

          They are using machines to instigate a level of surveillance that they could never get funding or the public acquiescence to do otherwise.

          1. You could do it with teams of officers, specially trained and each assigned to one lane, with one officer saying the license plate number and two others each writing down every other plate number.

            I mean, are police cars unconstitutional because they enable cops to move much faster between locations than they could do without a machine?

            1. Facile nonsense.

              1. No, wait – Tulpa has a point. If it’s not a violation of our rights to have cops standing there monitoring and recording our movement in person then it shouldn’t be a violation for them to do it via improved technology. Now I happen to believe that surveillance and recording without a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing is a violation of our rights. But hey, I’m just some crazy radical.

                1. No, Tulpa doesn’t have a point. One or two (superhuman) cops writing down license plates is one thing, littering major interstates with them would be impractical, just like a cop at each intersection citing red lights or a fleet of police cars to follow everyone they want to keep tabs on via GPS. The budgets wouldn’t support it, which is why they are doing it with machines. The funding level of the police is one of the few checks on tyranny we still have. Tulpa wants to throw that away for an authoritarian nightmare.

                  The end result of Tulpa’s copophilia is a little police drone following everyone all the time whenever they are outside the tiny little zones of privacy that Tulpa and law+order morons like him have not managed to obliterate.

                  Tyranny is capable through efficiencies of scale. Tulpa doesn’t care because he’s fine with tyranny.

                  1. Guess what, SF…you’re not going to stop this, right or wrong. So if it inevitably leads to a dystopian police state, then that’s where we’re headed no matter what.

                    The “law+order morons” who don’t cry wolf over minor shit like this are going to have a better shot at being listened to when REAL abuses of power are proposed than people who cried “tyranny” at everything that went bump in the night.

                    PS: not sure what GPS tracking you’re referring to; I’ve quite clearly opposed attaching GPS devices to cars without a warrant, as it constitutes a seizure of property.

                    If you’re talking about tracking a GPS device that people knowingly install in their own cars or carry around in their pockets, well, that’s the risk you take having a GPS device.

  13. So, can anyone tell me what *legitimate* purpose requiring license plates has?

    1. Identifying drivers in hit-and-runs, bank robbery getaways, allowing officers to notify dispatch who they pulled over to deter cop killings, etc.

      1. Now explain why the DEA needs to keep a database of who was at a given location for up to two years.

        1. Because of the DEA’S Fuck You, That’s Why Policy, T.

        2. Through data analysis they may be able to find travel patters that could indicate enough evidence of drug trafficking to get a judge to sign off on a warrant giving a SWAT team the opportunity to terrorize small children and kill family pets.

          Why do you want to take away all their fun?

        3. Now that’s moving the goalposts.

          1. Is it okay for the DEA to do this, or is it not?

            That pair of goalposts is so close, it might as well be one single post.

            1. I’m referring to the fact that the original question was asking whether license plates are worthwile in the first place, and having passed that challenge now the goal posts move to “well should the DEA keep a database of where you were for two years”.

              1. I read that question; that is not the one I was addressing.

              2. No, the original question asked what the legitimate purposes are. The follow-up was essentially asking whether any of those purposes had to do with the DEA. The answer is no.

                1. The follow up had nothing to do with the answer I gave, so it’s not a follow up.

          2. Special Agent Ramona Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the DEA’s Phoenix division, said the information collected by the devices is stored for up to two years and can be shared with other federal agencies and local police. She declined to say how many have been installed or where, citing safety concerns.

            They’re doing it. I’m asking you if you think it’s a) justifiable on law enforcement grounds and b) an allowable use of the police power.

            1. I don’t think the DEA should exist in the first place, but that’s another question.

              That said I think the govt has the authority to scan license plates on public roads wherever they want, for whatever reason. If a cop by the side of the road can do it, a machine can do it too.

              1. State govts, that is. Not the feds, except in DC and Guam and on federal property.

              2. So, let’s give more authority to the government. Grand idea. It’ll NEVER backfire.

                1. They already have it, we’re not giving it to them.

                  1. It all adds up, Tulpa. Arresting people for the “crime” of warning about speed traps, letting the DEA and other agencies data-mine everyone on the road, not having constant A/V surveillance of cops to catch the bad ones, more internet surveillance… it all adds up.

                    Time to reel those fuckers in, not let them off the hook.

                    1. I don’t see how stopping this (which we all know we have not the power to do) is going to help in those other areas.

                  2. I should have said “it doesn’t help to encourage the authoritarian motherfuckers into making MORE things illegal”.

            2. Make that ONE goalpost, which cannot be moved away from itself.

    2. The only purpose for license plates is to allow the taxation of the vehicle. They are an example of tyranny at it’s finest.

  14. Is that an IP address there near the bottom? (172.19.25.31) Not that anyone would try to tamper with it or anything. Just curious.

  15. The most extensive use of scanners is at BYU, where perhaps every license plate that rolls onto campus is documented

    BYU? Excellent. Now the DEA can crack down on all the Mormons smuggling illegal Jello.

  16. It’s in the same format as an IP address, so likely is one. However, unless they are really stupid, this address is on a private firewalled network and not accessible from just anywhere.

    1. However, unless they are really stupid

      Dumber IT decisions have been made. Like not changing the default passwords on the programmable street signs.

    2. IP addresses 172.16.0.0 through 172.31.255.255 are a Class B private network. This is similar to the 192.168.X.X Class C addresses you probably use on your home network, it just provides many more addresses. In other words, the 172.19.25.31 might well be the IP of the scanner, but the scanner can only communicate with an agency network and is not addressable via the internet without first tunneling through the agency’s firewall.

  17. I forgive you idiots for feeding the troll. This time. Holy shit, how hilarious.

    1. I think we need a name for threads where Tulpa goes EPIC STUPID. Maybe Tulpical?

      “That was a totally Tulpical thread.”

      1. This thread was absolutely Tulpiddly with idiocy.

      2. Sounds too much like orange juice. Veto.

        1. Tulpical it is!

  18. But unlike the UK, which routinely puts old tires on roadside cameras and lights them on fire, we have no balls.

    1. Give it time.

  19. I don’t know if you’ll get to read this, Tulpa, but I should have included this:

    Speeding, and improper equipment (e.g., having a burned-out light, be it headlight or turn signal or brake light) are both ticketable offenses.

    Therefore, if it is wrong to warn people about ONE of these offenses, then it must be wrong to warn them of ALL OTHER offenses.

    QED.

    1. I’m totally OK with telling people to slow down or informing them that they’re speeding.

      What I’m not OK with is telling people where law enforcement is monitoring speeding. Those are very, very different things.

      1. Sorry, it’s free speech.

        Fuck off, slaver.

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