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Besides Tracking Your Every Move Online, The Government Is Tracking Where You Travel - We're All Under Investigation By The Government All The Time

The US has been rocked the last week by explosive revelations of massive spying on its own citizens by our own government - the kind you read about police states doing. A traitor/hero sits in a Hong Kong hotel room after disclosing that the secretive NSA is storing massive data on every citizen's digital life (email, calls, etc). Many might also be surprised to learn that the government is recording where you drive and warehousing that into a massive database.

Local law enforcement agencies are recording your license plates and the locations of where you park and are using this information to building a profile of where you travel. Police, sheriff, highway patrol and other official vehicles are being equipped with automated license plate readers (ALPR) devices. These cameras digital scan for a license plate and record every license plate they encounter along with the location using GPS. ALPRs are also on city street lights and signs and even repo men now have them. These cameras can scan up to 1800 plates per minute collecting a mountain of data on unsuspecting drivers.

If these cameras were used solely for spotting stolen cars or parking deadbeats while on patrol, their use would be unobjectionable, but the usage goes far beyond that.

The government is gathering data from all of these sources, compiling a database to track where citizens travel, and the government is storing this information for years. Collection is not limited to those suspected of criminal wrongdoing and no court is required to approve the monitoring and storage. Law officers can consult this database and track where citizens have traveled and on what dates. Access is not restricted to local police, but FBI, DEA, ICE and Homeland Security have access to this information.

In my hometown of San Diego, this program has been in effect for at least 3 years and they've collected 40 million scans or about 15 locations for every registered vehicle in the county. SANDAG is the government agency in the county which is combing this data from many sources into a single searchable database.

I asked for access to the data under the California Public Records Act. Initially SANDAG objected, claiming the records were "privileged or confidential". When I explained that I was seeking only data related to my personal vehicle, SANDAG initially said they have "the potential to provide the information" but that I would need to verify I was the owner of the vehicle. I sent them a scan of my vehicle registration showing my name and license plate.

After complying with their request to verify it was my vehicle, they changed their mind and refused my request. They said they would not turn over the information because it was part of an investigation. They cited CA code section 6254(f) which allows the government to withhold information from the public related to an ongoing investigation.

I'm not aware of any crime for which I'd be under investigation, so the government should not be collecting information on me. Apparently government officials at SANDAG believe that all 3 million people in San Diego County are currently under investigation by law enforcement. I reached out to Paul Nicholas Boylan, an attorney who specializes in government transparency and public record access. He agreed to work with me.

"This case appeals to me on many levels," Paul told me. "Above and beyond the question of whether a local governmental agency should be permitted to place ordinary citizens under surveillance, is the question of whether an ordinary citizen like you can find out what that same governmental agency knows about you. In this case, SANDAG is basically arguing that they can follow you, track you, build a profile on you, but you can’t ever learn what SANDAG knows about you, because they are following and tracking you for the purposes of some kind of criminal investigation that they never explain or justify. That just doesn’t feel right to me," Paul said.

Two weeks ago I filed a lawsuit against SANDAG, asking a Judge to order them to let me see the information they’ve collected about me. I don't believe the government should be collecting info on all of its citizens. If it does have information, it should be public for all to examine – especially if it is information pertaining to the individual asking to see the information.

"The California Constitution grants every citizen the right to examine public information created or held by public officials or governmental agencies," Paul said. "This has to include personal information the government has collected on any individual person. If a citizen cannot examine what the government knows about them, then what good is the right to access public information and records?"

Those that defend widespread surveillance of citizens by police forces will contend that it helps catch molesters, terrorists, murders, pedophiles or other bad actors. We're told we must sacrifice individual freedoms for security. The flaw in this logic is that government officials are no more or less moral than the average person and will certainly abuse this info, as we're seeing with the recent IRS, EPA, and DOJ scandals. The 4th amendment guards against unreasonable searches and seizures. I hope my case will shine light on this unconstitutional police action and put a stop to it.

--MR

michael@michaelrobertson.com





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