Cellular Phones Aren’t the Only Way to Track People

A lot of privacy advocates have a habit of developing tunnel vision. They’ll see an obvious privacy violation and fail to see dozens of others. For example, I know a lot of privacy advocates who have developed tunnel vision for cellular phones. Some of these individuals will even leave their cellular phone at home when traveling somewhere thinking that doing so will make invisible to surveillance. However, there is more than one way to track an individual’s movements. How many people who leave their cellular phones at home then immediately get into a uniquely identifiable vehicle?

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has officially gained agency-wide access to a nationwide license plate recognition database, according to a contract finalized earlier this month. The system gives the agency access to billions of license plate records and new powers of real-time location tracking, raising significant concerns from civil libertarians.

Every vehicle is legally required to have a uniquely identifiable license plate. Image recognition technology has advanced to the point where reading the unique identified on these plats is trivial. Now it’s trivial to create a vehicle tracking system with nothing more than strategically placed cameras that can talk to a central tracking system.

If you want to protect your privacy, you need to take public transportation, right? While this might seem like an obvious answer since public transportation mixes a lot of people together, most public transit systems include video surveillance and facial recognition is now at the point where uniquely identifying somebody’s face is pretty easy. Given enough surveillance cameras, it’s possible to track somebody walking in a city thanks to facial recognition technology.

Surveillance has always been a cat and mouse game. Right now the cat has some new tactics that give it an edge. In order to survive, the mouse must evolve too. The mouse won’t evolve if it succumbs to tunnel vision though.

3 thoughts on “Cellular Phones Aren’t the Only Way to Track People”

  1. What would an “evolved mouse” look like and do, in your view? The facial recognition and license plate reader software can’t be uncreated. In theory, laws could be passed criminalizing the use of these to create databases of people convicted of no crimes; is that what you have in mind?

    1. The evolved mouse could be something as simple as a widespread movement of people destroying scanners. It could also be something less destructive although equally low tech such as swapping license plates around with other vehicles periodically. There are also the higher tech options of compromising law enforcement databases or apply materials to license places that hinder the scanners’ ability to read the license plates.

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