The Washington Post reports on use of computerized traffic scanning devices to help immigration officers hunt for unauthorized residents in the U.S.

The ACLU uncovered this activity — and local police accommodations to ICE in the endeavor — through Freedom of Information requests. Using mass surveillance machinery to target immigrants is one thing, but the larger issue about the data trove on millions of legal residents might also be some cause concern for a world in which privacy grows ever more illusory.

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Little Rock, by the way, is not on the list the ACLU discovered of 80 local police agencies, including some “sanctuary” cities, that have voluntarily turned over data to ICE. But Little Rock does operatessuch surveillance devices. A license plate scanner turned up a stolen vehicle report on a car on Twelth Street recently that led to the fatal shooting of its driver by a police officer. From the Post article on information gathered by such systems:

The database contains billions of records on vehicle locations captured from red-light and speed-limit cameras as well as from parking lots and toll roads that use the nearly ubiquitous and inexpensive scanners to monitor vehicle comings and goings.

Local police forces have long used those scanners to track criminal suspects and enforce traffic laws across the United States. But the records the ACLU obtained from the Department of Homeland Security through a Freedom of Information Act request shed new light on a little-noticed and expanding network of surveillance that has developed over the years and for which there appear to be few legal limitations.

The revelation drew sharp criticism from Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, who said the mere notion of “a massive, for-profit location-tracking database is about the worst idea I have ever heard of when it comes to Americans’ privacy and security.”

“There needs to be strong rules around how sensitive data like this is stored and controlled – location data of millions of Americans is a ripe target for predators, domestic abusers, and foreign spies,” he said in a statement.

An ACLU blog post noted that the information is stored for years and can provide “a literal and intimate roadmap of people’s private lives.” The post suggests that states should set limits on how such data may be used.


I’m reminded of a British TV detective drama in which nearly every episode is built on tracking down criminals though review of footage from ubiquitous TV cameras. Home devices linked to the Internet also often send information unbeknownst to device owners to the manufacturers — the likes of baby monitors, vacuums and, according to a recent NPR report, even sex toys.

Privacy? What’s that?