Police Surveillance

Little Rock, AR, is expanding the surveillance capability and power of its police patrols:

A police car with a device that photographs license plates moves through the city and scans the traffic on the streets, relaying the data it collects to a computer for sifting. Police say the surveillance helps identify stolen cars and drivers with outstanding arrest warrants.

It also allows authorities to monitor where average citizens might be at any particular time. That bothers some residents, as well as groups that oppose public intrusions into individual privacy. The groups are becoming more alarmed about license plate tracking as a growing number of police departments acquire the technology.

More (worse?) [emphasis added]:

Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas said the law enforcement benefits outweigh any concerns about possible abuse of the information, which, as a public record, is legally available for anyone to see.  He said the department may get more of the devices.

No irony there at all.  Nosirree.  Thomas went on:

Should that potential of misuse therefore eliminate the capacity of law enforcement to collect data which has a legitimate purpose for the safety of our officers or the appropriateness of enforcement actions?  I don’t think so[.]

But he misses the point.  This isn’t a private citizen, for whom prior restraint constraints are properly illegal—there has to be a crime committed (of which conspiracy is one, but which requires probable cause to interrupt).  This is a government, which is hard enough to control.  Prior restraint of government is a necessary precondition for freedom.  It’s why probable cause and warrants are a for restraining governments.

There are other dangers of the police—the government—creating this particular database, also pointed out in the article.

[City Director Ken] Richardson said he didn’t hear about the device until after it had been collecting data for months.  He said he said he hasn’t heard many complaints.

“It’s hard for you to have a problem with something if you don’t know it’s going on,” he said.

So, Chief, why all the secrecy, if it’s so innocuous?

And as [Catherine, of the New York American Civil Liberties Union] Crump points out,

Given how few rules are currently on the books to protect our privacy, it’s plausible that private investigators and data-mining companies could acquire this location data[.]

And nefarious individuals posing as those.  This is a neat-sounding idea that’s highly dangerous.

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