A Vancouver volunteer citizen crime watch group is on the lookout for stolen cars, and inadvertently collecting surveillance data on other citizens for the government.As reported in the Columbian, Neighbors On Watch (NOW), are being trained to operate high tech police license plate scanning technology to patrol neighborhoods and parking lots in search of stolen cars.
Big Brother is Watching. Photo: Team Dalog
While finding stolen vehicles is a worthwhile effort that most everyone can get behind, the volunteers may not know that operating these license plate scanners tags and stores the data on every car that they drive by. The location of each citizen’s car is stored by location and time, and that data lives in database that can be accessed and searched later.
The more data that is collected, the more information that can be recalled to identify your past comings and goings. And the data mining possibilities are endless.
Where you go says a lot about what you are. The government will now have data on what church you go to, and who goes with you. And they can analyze the data to find out who your friends and associations are, by the cars that are parked around you, and how often you are in the same place with someone else.
A lot of this information gathering capability is ostensibly being used in the name of homeland security. It’d be nice to be able to backtrack and assemble a pattern of activity about suspected bad guys or terrorists. But gathering data on them means gathering data on everyone. If that’s what we want as a society, then should be done openly, as part of a national discussion.
If we want these powerfully intrusive tools at our government’s disposal, we need to consider strong safeguards against there abuse. Who has access to this data, by what authority, and for what purpose? Do the police even need a warrant to check out where I’ve been?
Bit by bit, we are building a surveillance state, without most people even realizing it.