The National License Plate Database Is Still a Thing

Written by Jason Simpkins
Posted March 20, 2014

There was widespread outrage last month when the Department of Homeland Security called for a national license plate database that would pool data from commercial and law enforcement tag readers.

These readers scan the tags of every single vehicle that crosses their path. So a cohesive collection of the information, would effectively allow authorities (and the government) to monitor the comings and goings of everyday Americans.

“The government would prefer a close-up of the plate and a zoomed-out image of the vehicle,” read the DHS solicitation, obtained by the Washington Post.

The images would go in a case file report that would include maps and registration information, as well as the car’s make and model, according to the WaPo report.

Days after the report, however, the DHS announced that it would cancel the request. Many Americans breathed a sigh of relief, satisfied that at least some of our privacy might still be shielded from the prying eyes of the technical age.

But sadly, it's not true.

Turns out, the government doesn't actually need to build a national database... It already has access to several. So the DHS wasn't looking to get new information, but rather expand and streamline the access it already has.

Indeed, private companies have been collecting this data for years now, and doing so at a greater, more efficient rate than the government ever could.

U.S. government agencies like the DHS are simply the consumers.

Records show that various entities within DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement section (ICE) have paid $175,000 over the past four years to a company called Vigilant Video for access to the license-plate database most commonly used by law enforcement. (Note: The company is now known as Vigilant Solutions, which is so much less Orwellian.)

Included in that sum, was one $20,000 contract for an ICE program called “Operation Blind Squirrel” – an allusion to the saying that even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.

The Air Force, Forest Service, U.S. Marshals Service, DEA and FBI also use Vigilant’s paid services, as well.

So while many of us were relieved that the DHS had backed down, the reality is that everything we feared is already true.

Our whereabouts are being tracked and commoditized.

It's sort of like the personal information users put on social media sites, except this isn't voluntary.

Everytime you drive past a cop car, through a toll booth, over a bridge, past a traffic camera, or even just park on a public street, you, your car and your license plate are being photographed, stored and sold.

In its promotional material, Vigilant says its largest pool of license place recognition (LPR) data is harvested “from commercial sources,” in particular Vigilant’s subsidiary, the Digital Recognition Network (DRN) – a pool of data that totals over 1.8 billion detections and grows at a rate of almost 70 million per month.

You're almost certainly in there.

Fight on,

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Jason Simpkins

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Jason Simpkins is an Editor of Wealth Daily and Investment Director of Secret Stock Files, a financial advisory focused on security companies and defense contractors. For more on Jason, check out his editor's page. 

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