The latest so-called “Privacy Impact Assessment ” (PIA) made public by the US Department of Homeland Security, “CBP License Plate Reader Technology“, provides unsurprising but disturbing details about how the US government’s phobias about foreigners and drugs are driving (pun intended) the convergence of border surveillance and dragnet surveillance of the movements of private vehicles within the USA.
The main reason for the publication of the CBP License Plate Reader Technology PIA is to provide the public with “notice that CBP is partnering with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to leverage each other’s .. LPR [License Plate Reader] systems.”
Since at least 2007, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has had a network of license plate readers continuously monitoring and recording the license plate numbers and locations of vehicles near US borders. “Near” and “border” in this context are euphemisms: Federal regulations define the “border” zone for purposes of CBP authority as including anywhere within 100 miles of any US border or seacoast, which puts roughly two-thirds of the US population within “border” regions.
Meanwhile, the DEA has compiled an aggregated database of geotagged and timestamped license plate records purchased from commercial sources, including records of vehicle locations far from what even the DHS considers the “border zone”.
CBP and DEA are already able to query and retrieve data from each other’s LPR databases. A DEA agent can also set a “TECS alert” flag in the DHS database for a specific license plate number, the same way they can for a specific passport number, so that they will be notified automatically whenever that plate is spotted by a DHS camera.
What’s changing is that instead of providing LPR information to each other only in response to specific targeting requests, CBP and DEA plan to “stream” all of the data from their LPR networks to each other in real time. “CBP intends to provide DEA access to CBP LPR information… through a real-time streaming service.” Each agency will have a complete copy of the data collected by the other, so that they can merge and mine it and use it for “pre-crime” profiling.
As is the trend with all DHS surveillance systems, the goal is to convert a targeted system for investigating suspects into a dragnet system that treats everyone as a suspect subject to continuous surveillance and “continuous screening” or “continuous vetting”.