License Plate Cameras

FBI Was 'Wrestling' With License Plate Reader Privacy Issues, For What That's Worth

Don't get your hopes up. There's no way the feds are passing up this technology.



As of June 2012, the FBI's own lawyers were "still wrestling" with privacy issues raised by the use of license plate readers—the automated cameras that can capture license plate numbers and add them to databases to track people's movements. That's according to internal Bureau emails obtained by the ACLU, which reveal that the FBI temporarily halted the purchase of license plate readers until privacy concerns were somehow addressed to the satisfaction of the Office of General Counsel. The delay was only expected to be temporary, though, and the FBI is believed to have resumed purchases of the systems that "enjoy tremendous field support."

Not that the FBI's qualms could have been more than a speed bump in the path of federal acquisition of license plate readers. The Department of Homeland Security once again plans a nationwide license plate database after public outcry derailed a more ambitious scheme last year. And the Drug Enforcement Administration has deployed such cameras for years along or highways, potentially monitoring the movements of a good many travelers.

The feds long ago embraced their inner Dr. Strangeloves and learned to stop worrying and love privacy violations. So it's nice to know that the FBI has these internal dialogues, but there's little doubt over the ultimate resolution. The FBI emails reveal enormous enthusiasm about license plate reader technology. As the ACLU points out:

the Bureau seems to have invested money in the development and testing of license plate readers made by one manufacturer, ELSAG North American. An undated document explains the need for a less than full and open bidding process for the FBI's acquisition of license plate readers, noting that ELSAG will provide an ALPR system "custom designed for a specific concealment to fulfill an unmet operational need." The FBI's Operational Technology Division "has invested an estimated $400k in labor to design, develop, and test of [sic] ELSAG deployment solutions."

ELSAG doesn't just sell to the feds, by the way. The Greensboro, North Carolina-based company markets to even small police departments. Money shouldn't be a barrier, of course, to buying snoopy tech, so the company notes, "funding your LPR systems is typically the biggest challenge in obtaining them. We hope this information on grant funding opportunities is helpful to your agency."

There's plenty of cash available from the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, both of which, as we've noted, love them some license plate readers.

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  1. “He’s wrestling with his conscience…and he hits his conscience with a folding metal chair! Now he’s stomping on his conscience’s chest…now his conscience is being carried out on a stretcher…was that legal? The referee says sure, why not!”

  2. I’m reasonably sure that FBI agents keep their consciences in small bottles placed on their desk. Once in a while the bottle gets knocked over and some of it slips out, but usually it’s easy to ignore.

    1. Maybe it was covered in the link, but I’m not sure that the FBI agents’ consciences were ever an issue. Wrestling with privacy issues doesn’t mean that they shared the concern. Just that their lawyers anticipated the concerns and were trying to figure out how to bypass the issue.

      1. FBI Lawyer 1 to FBI Lawyer 2: “Why so glum?”

        FBI Lawyer 2: “I’m so tired of having to compromise the quality of my work. I mean, just once, couldn’t they let us figure out the best way to thwart the Constitution BEFORE they start using the tech? Always having to rush…”

  3. The most disturbing thing about this case is the advisor’s skeletal upper torso that somehow manages to co-exist with the saddlebags that make up her hips and thighs. How does that happen?

  4. So, how long will it be before all vehicles will be required to have identifying transponders?

    1. Whenever I hear someone say “self-driving cars will never happen” I bring up this exact point.

      The state WANTS you in a self-driving car so they know your exact whereabouts at all times, can lock you in without chance of escape, and transport you to the nearest police facility against your wishes.

      1. “We regret to inform you your family was in the car that was hacked and driven to the automated vehicle recycling center.”

      2. +1 Minority Report

      3. Self driving cars are not remotely controlled. In principle, they can be completely autonomous. Transponders and remote disable will likely happen before self driving cars

  5. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link,
    go to tech tab for work detail ?????????????

  6. They were wrestling, and it looks like the license plate readers won.

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