How a Surveillance State Affects Motorists’ Privacy?

By Shelia Dunn, NMA Communications Director and Joe Cadillic of the Mass Privatel Blog

First of all, let’s define a surveillance state, which will ultimately help us understand how a surveillance state affects motorists’ privacy.

A 2013 Privacy International Blog took on that task with a look towards the United Kingdom. The UK data protection regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office, asked scholars in both 2006 and 2010 how to nail this definition down, especially since it seemed every policy ‘solution’ at the time contained a surveillance aspect. Here are the researchers four main points:

  1. Due to a publicly agreeable goal, surveillance always starts as purposeful and justified.
  2. Then the surveillance becomes routine—not always visible but a part of our everyday lives.
  3. No longer random but rational and systematic—planned and carried out via a schedule.
  4. Surveillance becomes focused and detailed—those handling it aggregate and store data that can then be transmitted, retrieved, compared, mined, and ultimately traded.

The same researchers also identified what risks there are in a surveillance society:

  • Discrimination and exclusion
  • Disempowerment
  • Function creep
  • Social sorting
  • Threats to human rights (including privacy)

Around that time, the House of Lords released a final report on surveillance. Here are the opening words:

“Surveillance is an inescapable part of life in the UK. To respond to crime, combat the threat of terrorism, and improve administrative efficiency, successive UK governments have gradually constructed one of the most extensive and technologically advanced surveillance systems in the world.”

Ultimately, the surveillance state definition is rather complex:

  • “A surveillance state is a state that sees surveillance as the solution to complex social issues.”
  • “A surveillance state collects information on everyone, without regard to innocence or guilt, and pretends it is not surveillance.”
  • “A surveillance state secretly redefines laws and the language of the law.”
  • “A surveillance state avoids democratic and judicial authorization and scrutiny.”
  • “A surveillance state deputizes the private sector, by compelling access to companies’ data, then pays the industry to run its control systems and even sells our information to industry as though it belongs to the state.”

Okay, enough…this information came out in 2013. Fast forward to the end of 2020—do you feel that the US is any different or has diminished its surveillance state since 2013. Heck no!

  • When a motorist drives from one point to another and then elsewhere, some jurisdictions can track them from place to place using CCTV cameras and/or automated license plate readers.
  • Numerous Department of Motor Vehicles (DMVs or the state agency that handles driver’s license and vehicle registrations) sell motorists’ information to marketing and surveillance firms, which then make a profit off of your private information.
  • Automated cameras send us tickets, whether we were driving or not.
  • Some roadways now employ facial recognition to identify drivers.

Joe has written quite extensively about this subject. Here are just a few of his posts:

Shelia:  Joe, what are some other ways the surveillance state affect motorist privacy?

One way the American surveillance state affects motorists is through tolling transponder devices such as E-ZPass or I-Pass, which boast about being convenient and fast for motorists.

An essential fact that politicians leave out is these devices also track when a motorist enters and exits a highway. In theory, they could be used to tell if a motorist has been speeding, which opens up another problem.

E-Z Pass and I-Pass (and other such transponders) also have surveillance cameras placed at various points along the highway[s] that take pictures of the vehicles’ occupants.

Just this month, the NY State Thruway went to all electronic tolling, and soon all-electronic toll roads will likely be connected nationwide.

There are other surveillance devices that cannot be turned off like smart streetlights in San Diego, which record and listen to everyone and everything that passes by them. What makes San Diego’s smart streetlights so disturbing is the reason they cannot be turned off but have been designed not to be turned off ever.

And that is why smart devices that monitor everyone and everything are so dangerous to our privacy.

Shelia: It seems surveillance has become so systematic and pervasive that we now have no choice but to take it no matter what. Do you think the US can stand down from the surveillance state?

Knowledge is half the battle. For every corporation or police officer that claims to need license plate readers, ShotSpotter[s], or CCTV cameras to keep Americans safe, there is always a trade-off. Nearly every smart surveillance device has one thing in common—they indiscriminately monitor everyone, families, kids, the elderly, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants. No one is safe from Big Brother’s ever-growing gaze.

To combat the surveillance state requires knowledge of their surveillance capabilities and participation at local and state levels. We need to tell politicians that public surveillance devices affect everyone and should be reined in so that they do not run amuck.

Shelia: What else can motorists do to take our streets back from surveillance?

Four great organizations that care about motorist’s privacy are the National Motorists Association, Restore the Fourth, Defending Rights and Dissent, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  I recommend anyone concerned about their privacy reach out to these organizations and make their voices heard.

Are you concerned about how the world has become Big Brother? Please give us your comments below, or check out the discussion on the NMA Facebook Page.

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