The Public-Private Surveillance Partnership

Between government and corporate surveillance I would, nominally, agree that government surveillance is more dangerous. This is because corporations aren’t in the practice of sending armed goons to your home to kick in your door, shoot your dog, and kidnap you based on what their surveillance has uncovered. But the distinction is only nominal because the data collected from corporate surveillance often finds its way into the government’s hands:

Throughout the United States—outside private houses, apartment complexes, shopping centers, and businesses with large employee parking lots—a private corporation, Vigilant Solutions, is taking photos of cars and trucks with its vast network of unobtrusive cameras. It retains location data on each of those pictures, and sells it.

It’s happening right now in nearly every major American city.

The company has taken roughly 2.2 billion license-plate photos to date. Each month, it captures and permanently stores about 80 million additional geotagged images. They may well have photographed your license plate. As a result, your whereabouts at given moments in the past are permanently stored. Vigilant Solutions profits by selling access to this data (and tries to safeguard it against hackers). Your diminished privacy is their product. And the police are their customers.

The company counts 3,000 law-enforcement agencies among its clients. Thirty thousand police officers have access to its database. Do your local cops participate?

One of the biggest risks of corporate surveillance is the collected data, either through sale or warrant, ends up in the hands of the State. While I have no real concerns about Facebook using my social graph to justify sending armed goons to kidnap me I do have concerns about judge granting a warrant to a law enforcement agency to obtain that data as a justification for kidnapping me.