Can The Surveillance State Be Stopped?

As Law Enforcement Pushes APLRs and Surveillance, People Push Back

With advances in technology and under the guise of keeping everyone safe, comes an ever increasing infringement by the government on people’s privacy. You can see evidence of this in the increasing number of surveillance tools used by police agencies across the nation. Used to scan license plates, monitor street corners, and look for people with outstanding warrants, these tools toe the line between safety mechanism and Big Brother’s eye in the sky.

Several big cities across the U.S. have spent and continue to funnel millions into large surveillance systems. In Oakland, for example, a system that’s already cost millions of dollars is going to be expanded even further. There, gunshot detection sensors, license plate readers (APLRs), and surveillance footage come together to make a virtually seamless system of tracking.

License Plate ScannerIn NYC, there are radiation sensors, criminal databases, and terror lists in addition to the 3,000 surveillance cameras throughout the city. Transportation authorities can track your habits through where you pay daily tolls and the NSA can compile cell phone records of millions of people.

This is all done, we are told, in the interest of our safety. It’s good for us, they say. But not everyone is convinced.

When Alameda County, CA (of which Oakland is a part) purchased their first drone last year using federal dollars, they had to shelve the program they intended to use it in due to public protest. In Seattle, the city council forced the police department to return their federally financed drone to the manufacturer. Iowa City passed a moratorium that bars the city from using some surveillance devices including the mostly-accepted APLRs.

In Oakland, the ACLU has spoken up on their most recent program that will expand surveillance capabilities. Deemed the Domain Awareness Center, the initiative will not only increase surveillance but create a sort of information mining hub from which to do it.

This effort, the ACLU says, amounts to “warrantless surveillance” and warns, “the city would be able to collect and stockpile comprehensive information about Oakland residents who have engaged in no wrongdoing.”

The growing surveillance state is big business. These law enforcement agencies are using government money, under the Department of Homeland Security and other federal bodies, to award huge contracts to the tech companies who make, install, and manage the surveillance systems.

The technology in NYC was built by Microsoft. I.B.M. has sold their own data mining technology to Las Vegas and Memphis. In New York, a new system for monitoring payroll using biometric readers resulted in reports of kickbacks, something the tech company involved paid $500 million to avoid prosecution on.

Surveillance doesn’t only provide the government with the chance to blur the lines between what is allowable under the constitution and what is infringement upon the people’s rights, but it also creates the opportunity for back room million-dollar deals while increasing the militarization of domestic police forces.  All of this results in concerns that aren’t just paranoid, conspiracy-theorist talk of an Orwellian future, but substantiated fears that we are handing over our privacy, our rights, and control of our lives to an ever-expanding government.

About David Matson