Feeds

ACLU warns of mass tracking of US drivers by government spycams

Scanning system captures minimal amout of crooks

High performance access to file storage

US drivers are being tracked to an unprecedented extent thanks to a system fattened by federal grant money and spurred by the rush to market private automobile data, according to a report by the ACLU.

After analyzing 26,000 pages of documents from police departments spread across the USA, along with information about private companies, the American Civil Liberties Union has produced a report highlighting the large amounts of data public and private companies are storing on drivers, and the poor retention policies that go along with it.

The You Are Being Tracked report was released on Wednesday, and argues that "the implementation of automatic license plate readers poses serious privacy and other civil liberties threats".

Automatic license plate readers have proliferated across the US due to a fall in the cost of underlying storage and interception technology, and some $50 million dollars in federal grant money distributed to under-funded law enforcement departments that otherwise couldn't afford it.

Though US law enforcement tends to have data retention policies that limit the time this information can be retained, data sharing agreements with other agencies and private companies can prolong the time that data is kept.

Automated license readers scoop up vast amounts of data on innocent individuals along with the minuscule bits of information about "hot" vehicles or tagged cars.

Readers controlled by law enforcement agencies in the state of Maryland performed 29 million reads in the first five months of 2012, but only one in 500 license plates scanned were associated with a hit – "any crime, wrongdoing, minor registration problem, or even suspicion of a problem".

Of these hits, 97 per cent were for a suspended or revoked registration, or for violating Maryland's Vehicle Emissions Inspection program. This makes for a vanishingly small number of hits on vehicles any right thinking person could conceivably want a distributed robotic state to be tracking.

The report is chock full of examples like this, which all show mass data slurping for a tiny hit rate.

But how long agencies store this data on civilians and tagged vehicles is variable, with some agencies deleting all "non-hit" information immediately, but others retaining the information from anywhere from 14 days, to 30 days, to several years.

Many of these agencies may feed this data into local state "fusion centers" that pool IT assets for use by various enforcement agencies, the report notes. So even if data is being deleted locally it is still being stored somewhere.

"If not properly secured, license plate reader databases open the door to abusive tracking," write the ACLU.

Private companies also track vehicles, and these organizations such as MVTrac or Digital Recognition Network slurp huge amounts of license plate information from readers deployed by private companies into centralized databases. DRN's national database, for example, contains over 700 million data points, the ACLU says.

These companies will re-sell access to their data to law enforcement agencies, which can search through the images other data associated with the license plates when investigating a crime.

In an impressive feat of understatement, the ACLU notes: "These private databases raise serious privacy concerns".

Given the lack of regulation around how long data is kept on file, the different policies used by private and the public sector, and the potential for massive abuse, the ACLU report concludes with several pleas for restraint in the gathering and storage of this data.

But, given the recent revelations around PRISM and other data slurping schemes, this vulture thinks it unlikely that the public sector will hesitate at collecting this data.

And as for the private sector? Well, after surreptitiously scooping up information on Wi-Fi points for years via Street View vans Google was hit by a probe from UK watchdog the ICO, but was merely ordered to delete the data and faced no fine. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Parent gabfest Mumsnet hit by SSL bug: My heart bleeds, grins hacker
Natter-board tells middle-class Britain to purée its passwords
Obama allows NSA to exploit 0-days: report
If the spooks say they need it, they get it
Web data BLEEDOUT: Users to feel the pain as Heartbleed bug revealed
Vendors and ISPs have work to do updating firmware - if it's possible to fix this
OpenSSL Heartbleed: Bloody nose for open-source bleeding hearts
Bloke behind the cockup says not enough people are helping crucial crypto project
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Call of Duty 'fragged using OpenSSL's Heartbleed exploit'
So it begins ... or maybe not, says one analyst
German space centre endures cyber attack
Chinese code retrieved but NSA hack not ruled out
NSA denies it knew about and USED Heartbleed encryption flaw for TWO YEARS
Agency forgets it exists to protect communications, not just spy on them
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.