“This is Just Evil”: Massive Private License Plate Database Tracks Car Locations Over Years

A must-read article in the Atlantic describes yet another surveillance state advance that it was not hard to see coming: large-scale logging of time and location stamped license plate data, retained over years.

The company behind it, ominously called Vigilant Solutions, sells the information both to private parties and to law enforcement organizations. From the story:

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….

To install a GPS tracking device on your car, your local police department must present a judge with a rationale that meets a Fourth Amendment test and obtain a warrant. But if it wants to query a database to see years of data on where your car was photographed at specific times, it doesn’t need a warrant––just a willingness to send some of your tax dollars to Vigilant Solutions, which insists that license plate readers are “unlike GPS devices, RFID, or other technologies that may be used to track.” Its website states that “LPR is not ubiquitous, and only captures point in time information. And the point in time information is on a vehicle, not an individual.”

But thanks to Vigilant, its competitors, and license-plate readers used by police departments themselves, the technology is becoming increasingly ubiquitous over time.

The article stresses that this form of surveillance may not be kosher, in that the ability to put together a person’s movements over time is not just a difference in degree, but a difference in kind, from the idea that you have no presumption of privacy (and therefore protection from being photographed) when you are in public. And Vigilant and their ilk also argue that they are not tracking individuals but vehicles, as if the two are not the same in a high percentage of cases. But the bigger issue, which the article does not address explicitly, is that even if this sort of snooping is not legal (or at a minimum, not usable as evidence), it’s well on its way to being so well established as to be difficult to stop.

The Federal governments is supporting more license plate spying. Again from the story:

“During the past five years, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has distributed more than $50 million in federal grants to law-enforcement agencies—ranging from sprawling Los Angeles to little Crisp County, Georgia, population 23,000—for automated license-plate recognition systems,” the Wall Street Journal reports. As one critic, California state Senator Joe Simitian, asked: “Should a cop who thinks you’re cute have access to your daily movements for the past 10 years without your knowledge or consent? I think the answer to that question should be ‘no.’”

Experts point out how the information can and almost certainly will be used to detect and punish behavior deemed transgressive:

Vigilant Solutions is a subsidiary of a company called Digital Recognition Network.

Its website declares:

All roads lead to revenue with DRN’s license plate recognition technology. Fortune 1000 financial institutions rely on DRN solutions to drive decisions about loan origination, servicing, and collections. Insurance providers turn DRN’s solutions and data into insights to mitigate risk and investigate fraud. And, our vehicle location data transforms automotive recovery processes, substantially increasing portfolio returns.

And its general counsel insists that “everyone has a First Amendment right to take these photographs and disseminate this information.” But as the ACLU points out:

A 2011 report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police noted that individuals may become “more cautious in the exercise of their protected rights of expression, protest, association, and political participation” due to license plate readers. It continues: “Recording driving habits could implicate First Amendment concerns. Specifically, LPR systems have the ability to record vehicles’ attendance at locations or events that, although lawful and public, may be considered private. For example, mobile LPR units could read and collect the license plate numbers of vehicles parked at addiction counseling meetings, doctors’ offices, health clinics, or even staging areas for political protests.”

Many powerful interests are aligned in wanting to know where the cars of individuals are parked. Unable to legally install tracking devices themselves, they pay for the next best alternative—and it’s gradually becoming a functional equivalent. More laws might be passed to stymie this trend if more Americans knew that private corporations and police agencies conspire to keep records of their whereabouts.

And a contact who knows the private equity world pointed out (emphasis mine):

Morgan Stanley’s PE arm lists this company as an investment, which is a good example of how enmeshed PE has become in the security/intelligence state. The spooks, I am sure, love the secrecy of PE compared to public markets. And the love goes both ways, as it is my experience that PE people love the spooks because returns are able to be generated by influence peddling behind closed doors, and also because they just find them intellectually interesting.

In other words, proprietary opposition research, which is often hard to distinguish from blackmail.

Please circulate this article more widely. And consider environmentally-friendly transit options, like ride sharing and public transportation, as ways to help impede this effort.

Update 7:20 AM: Resilc provided a Boing Boing story, Vehicle surveillance company’s “free” deal turns Texas cops into bill-collectors, that describes other nefarious uses. Key sections:

Vigilant Solutions is “one of the country’s largest brokers of vehicle surveillance technology” and they’ve got a great deal for Texas police forces: install our license-readers and we’ll alert you every time someone with an overdue fine drives through your town. You pull them over and offer them a trip to jail or immediate payment, using our credit-card machines, for which we charge a 25% “fee” which goes straight into our pockets.

It’s “revenue neutral” — what could possibly go wrong?

Nothing you’ll ever learn about, anyway: agencies that take the deal have to sign a contract with a “non-disparagement clause” that binds them never to discuss the company’s failings. The company, meantime, gets to retain the town’s license-plate data for as long as it’s “commercially useful.”

Oh, and sometimes Vigilant makes mistakes and sends the police after people with no outstanding fines.

Read the rest. Boing Boing questions the legality of the big cut Vigilant Solutions is taking.

Print Friendly
Tweet about this on Twitter0Digg thisShare on Reddit0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Facebook0Share on LinkedIn26Share on Google+0Buffer this pageEmail this to someone


  1. Mark J. Lovas

    Let’s not forget that the US Post Office collects information on who we write, and who writes us…….(While I am on the subject, their attempt to imitate more commercial services is disgusting. That always-tagged on question whether I might not need something else–stamps or whatever is irritating and obnoxious.–and this habit of trying to sell me what I do not want, always when I am a captive audience, in general has stolen many hours of my time during my life………Much could be said in defense of US Postal service, but the tacked on business of imitating grotesque for-profit enterprises is not good….)

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Write your return address on the back. They take images only of the front. They won’t be able to tie what you sent to you. Bulk scanning won’t allow for them to pick up both sides and connect them. Handwriting also helps, particularly if it is lousy like mine (bank check deposit scanners can’t make sense of my numbers, so I am sure they can’t read my words either. They can’t find needles in these haystacks manually.

      Better yet, ante up for blind embossed stationery (no color printing, you return address is raised ONLY and only on the back flap. Encourage your friends to do the same. You can’t do much re bills and stuff like that but the surveillance state has multiple ways to get at that anyhow.

      1. grayslady

        Didn’t know this about writing the return address on the back (once upon a time that was always considered the appropriate etiquette when sending a letter). Thanks for the tip!

        1. clinical wasteman

          Honestly didn’t know they sometimes went on the front. Is that a North American norm or just a recent one that sailed over my distracted head?
          Anyway, don’t forget that if the person you’re writing to already knows who you are, a ‘return to sender’ address hardly needs the sort of name above it that Fickgesichtbuch would count as ‘real’.

          Also, it might be tempting at this point to shout something like ‘for god’s/your own sake just don’t drive!’ (NB. I do realize, Yves, that you’re not saying anything remotely so glib), but growing up in Auckland, NZ — a monsterpiece of suburban non-planning and a public transportation void — made the reality of enforced car-dependency clear. Until lately this was something I had to explain to other inner-Londoners, but people seem to get it more quickly now that loss of city privileges is imminent for the entire assetless class.

          1. grayslady

            Formal invitations continue to feature an address on the back of the envelope. Formal and informal correspondence used to be strictly back-of-the-envelope, also. I think the change came when letters started being typewritten–especially with the introduction of word processing. Have you ever tried running an envelope through the printer the wrong way around and making sure the address is centered on the envelope flap? It’s not fun. So people here became lazy and adapted the word processing format. However, correctly printed/embossed stationery always employs an address on the envelope flap.

            1. clinical wasteman

              Thanks for the patient explanation. That really did sail right by me then, along with the notion of running not just the letter but the envelope too through a printer. The Museum of Labour-Squandering Technology is going to be a crowded place when it’s finally built.
              Anyway, I hope it’s clear that the question about continental convention was genuine and not the sort of insufferable Anglo/Euro-bigotry against the Americas that’s normal in eg. Guardian/Monde/Repubblica etc. My only regret about having lived in North America (Montréal 20+ years ago) is that it wasn’t for longer.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          There’s no indication in the suit that it relied on a back image. And operationally, given the large variety of form factors in envelopes, I find it difficult to believe that this system works anywhere near as well as advertised. I see how much trouble my insurer has scanning images of claim forms and related documents, all of which are one sided. I must have 10% of the time where the images of perfectly decent printed original on 8 1/2 X 11 paper didn’t scan well enough to be readable (they’ve sent them back to me to show me).

          Having said that, checks are bulk processed, but the form factors for checks are much more limited compared to envelopes. And the information is in very specific places too, while there are more degrees of freedom on a letter as to where you address it, and more variation in how many data items there are (lines in an address).

          And look how they found the woman. They had a rough idea of when her letter must have been arrived at the processing center. The actual review of those 20 images was manual not by computer. This is not the same as mining letters for patterns, like who is friendly with whom based on their pen pals.

          Plus this woman was not the brightest bulb about security. She put her return address on a letter with ricin in it.

      2. PF

        The USPS photographs front and back. : “…the F.B.I. said a postal investigator tracing the ricin letters was able to narrow the search to Shannon Guess Richardson, an actress in New Boston, Tex., by examining information from the front and back images of 60 pieces of mail scanned immediately before and after the tainted letters sent to Mr. Obama and Mr. Bloomberg showing return addresses near her home.”

    2. BEast

      It’s also totally obvious they do this, as if anyone sends me any kind of mail under a new form of my name, or if I myself use a new form in a return address, I start getting snail mail spam under that version for months.

    1. Jim Haygood

      … and an incentive program, in which you can be excused from Obamacare fines if you get a bar code tattooed on your forehead.

      Drivers licenses and vehicle registrations are already bar-coded, so they don’t need a bar code on the plate itself.

    2. Zach Braff

      Just got new license plates (in TX) and noticed a discreet bar code in the corner, a few inches in size.

      A decade ago, Texas started printing illustrated plates — a cowboy under a space ship in the night sky, some farm animals hanging around. All of a sudden, they changed to just black text on a white background — easier for machine reading, I guess.

      Same thing happened in Ohio, probably lots of states. It’s like the technology to affordably print aesthetically pleasing license plates came around just in time to be usurped by the technology of surveillance.

      1. Jim Haygood

        Brings back memories of the annual plate change ritual that Texas had when I was a tyke. In even-numbered years, plates had white numbers on black background, while odd years were black numbers on white background.

        Plates had to be swapped out on April 1st, so it was happy hunting for LEOs in early April, especially if April 1st happened to be rainy so that folks didn’t want to be out working on the car.

      2. visitor

        Germany introduced machine-readable license plates as a national standard in 1994.

        When they came in use, the official explanation was that they could not be falsified, but it appeared very quickly that automatic license-plate recognition was the main motive.

      3. Heather

        Montana allows you to choose from about half a dozen different license plate designs. No bar codes, and the state legislature banned license plate readers last session

  2. Enquiring Mind

    Query: Some cars display the posted speed limit on the speedometer display, so that leads to questions.

    What is transmitting that information to the car, or is it inferred from a stored map file or GPS location?

    If there is two-way transmitter communication, are car identifiers such as VIN, license plate, etc sent?

    1. Chris

      Stored database and gps. Some cars with lane keeping have a camera that can read the speed limit signs.

  3. verifyfirst

    I have been wondering about putting a license plate cover on, semi see through, but able to reflect things like this and Rahm’s noxious red light cameras in Chicago, where I sometimes find myself.

    I googled a bit, didn’t find anything that sounded sure fire–anyone have any leads? It did appear these covers may be illegal in at least some states, but I’ll take my chances playing dumb if it ever comes up during a traffic stop.

    1. Howard Beale IV

      Do not get a privacy screen filter for a laptop that’s not bigger than your license plate and do not cut to size.

    2. Jim Haygood

      Plate covers and sprays are illegal in most states, and will actually increase your chance of getting stopped.

      However, infrared blocking covers that are still transparent to visible light frequencies are available. These may defeat many (but probably not all) LPR cameras, as can be inferred from this discussion:

      Dedicated license plate capture cameras are designed specifically to overcome problems associated with glare from vehicle lights and/or sun, as well as those caused by the movement of the vehicle. They typically integrate infrared (IR) illumination and ambient light filtering technology to overcome lighting challenges, as well as fast shutter speeds — over 1,000 frames per second — for high-speed capture.

      An added benefit when the infrared comes built-in is that there’s no need to put up poles with extra lighting, which is sometimes the case with non-LPR cameras. Finding the right infrared illuminator can be a challenge for non-LPR cameras, making sure the IR illuminator is the same wavelength as the video signal, so that light and lens open at the same time.

      Bosch’s new DINION capture 5000 camera illuminates the license plate with a burst of IR light while simultaneously filtering out visible light. This combination ensures well-lit plate images even in complete darkness and eliminates unwanted glare from vehicle lights.


      The invisibility of IR radiation to the human eye can be used against the surveillance state, since an IR-opaque but visibly clear cover isn’t obvious to a human officer. An LPR camera sees it, but probably just treats it as a capture failure, rather than a “perp with illegal IR blocker” alarm.

  4. griffen

    Highly disturbing, but driving the many toll based roads of Dallas & N Texas it’s none too surprising.

  5. m

    This is a money making scam, like red light cameras. I was working in a broke city and would stay with a friend when I worked (too tired to drive after 13-14hr shift). The city tax department declared I was a resident and demanded property taxes, based on multiple camera hits. I had to tell them to take me to court. The private company working with city dropped it at that point.

    1. Jim Haygood

      Ugh. Never thought of that angle. They were of course presuming that vehicle = individual, which is not valid. I often drive a vehicle registered to another person in our household.

      For awhile I had a vehicle registered in a different, neighboring state. Since my drivers license was not from that state, I was constantly getting stopped there by local cops with LPR cameras. Their database indicated that I was an “unlicensed driver” (in their state).

      In response to my complaint, the state motor vehicle agency responded that their database had no provision to account for drivers validly licensed in other states. So the “false hits” went on, till I got myself out of that place.

  6. curlydan

    Bruce Schneier’s 2015 book, “Data and Goliath”, details more of these abuses. I believe he said some tow truck operators have license plate scanners installed to sell to these types of companies.

    Besides these types of invasions, some of the really frightening aspects of his work in what I’ve read so far involve de-anonymizing data sets. For example, he said a researchers was able to de-anonymize 97% of the subjects in Kinsey’s sex studies.

    One of his basic themes is that the East German Stasi has nothing on the capabilities of the modern surveillance state with the U.S. being pretty much the most surveilled state around.

    1. washunate

      Agreed, the Ministry of State Security would be quite jealous of what we enlightened Americans have created in the name of Homeland Security. I mean, we call it a Department rather than a Ministry, after all, so progress.

  7. Clive

    We are, unfortunately, a little further down the ANPR road (no pun intended) as you guys across the pond.

    It might be helpful if I outline the possible course of this manifestation of the creepy creeping surveillance state based on what has happened here in England.

    A national system of Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras was build out up until around 2010. Civil liberties campaigners made the same sorts of arguments made in the article above about the intrusively and privacy implications. Eventually, data protection legislation was used to roll back on what the law enforcement and secret services could do with the information from this mass surveillance operations. It was under pressure http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/11/30/anpr_legality_debate/ that the national government determined it could not conduct “fishing trips” — speculative mass trawls through the licence plate (we call them “number plates” here, despite them containing a lot of letters!) data were deemed impermissible. And data couldn’t be collected then retained without a specific reason.

    Great, a huge victory for the principle of innocent-until-proven-guilty then, right ?

    Er, no, unfortunately not.

    Ding Ding ! Round two, folks !

    What happened then was that the national system of cameras was, to use a suitably Orwellian word, re-purposed. It became a network (but still a common system) of regional and local monitoring. This allowed a level of plausible deniability because at city or county level, a smaller scale system of licence plate monitoring could be retained provided it was for a designated purpose. Naturally, if the city or local agencies which owned their little chunk of the overall national system still then fed their data (usually through some staged Kabuki hand-off process that didn’t actually preclude a national database in practice) nothing had in reality been dismantled.

    Be under no illusion. These are military grade pieces of infrastructure. To aid NC readers, I walked off my lunchtime cake and grabbed a shot of the one about half a mile from where I live.


    Note the concrete slabs, the tough and high steel gantries and the layby which was specially constructed for maintenance work. The verge is also kept trimmed to ensure an uninterrupted line-of-sight.

    We also have, to comply with data protection legislation, this crock about who is supposed to own this installation, who is the Data Owner and the purpose of it being there:


    This is just a load of baloney. While the sign claims that the camera is “administered” by the county, this means nothing at all. The data can be shared with whoever the country wants to share it with. And the reason for the data collection is downright facetious. To “monitor movements from … the business park” ? Oh-puh-leese. The business park is 3 or 4 miles away on the other side of town and contains nothing which warrants any such monitoring. And why would a business park need “monitoring” anyway ? And how can a camera only scan licence plates from vehicles which have definitely been to the business park ? Of course they can’t — anyone driving on that road gets caught up in the spying.

    So good friends in the U.S. be prepared for similar subterfuge if you do manage to stop the prima facie installation of this sort of network. It will take several stakes to stop this particular zombie from rising from the crypt.

    1. perpetualWAR

      Yeah, I had heard that the British govt has gotten very good at installing Orwell into every part of an Englishman’s life. Eegad!

      When are we “subjects” going to all out revolt…..with real pitchforks and such?

    2. Ulysses

      “This allowed a level of plausible deniability”


      “Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.

      “The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to ‘recreate’ the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don’t know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.”


      1. Clive

        Ha ! I think they thought of that one… it’s maybe difficult to get a proper idea of the scale of those gantries from a picture, they’re like 60 or 70 feet high. The cameras are enclosed in a thick-looking steel casing with a deep shroud over the lens. I didn’t call them “military grade” without good reason.

        I also forgot to add, my dad was a subcontractor for the national company who had the maintenance contract for these things when there was a (publically acknowledged) national system. If there was an outage (they are monitored in real-time, if there’s no data for 5 minutes or so it logs a fault) then the maintenance company had to send a techie round in under an hour. The police were already on site and stayed with the guy until the camera was back on line. Incidents which rendered that particular node inop that went on for more than a few hours got escalated and a lot of big cheeses started getting antsy. Shows the importance they attached to keeping tabs on us all.

  8. so

    Sad as our country continues down around the toilet bowl. Do the powers that be think that by creating more and more conflict that it will actually make things better for all of Us? What do you WIN by creating paranoia and mistrust around you? Is that how they want to live? If only we could….

  9. dee preston

    Unless WE the People take a stand about this we are all screwed. And not in a good way. These camers are so creepy I hate going out in public. I hate being on camera at all any more. The internet and facebook are just more creepy invasive tools to trackeveryone. I knew that when facebook launched and now look it is being used in criminal and civil cases against people. The younger generation needs to put their damn phones down and learn to communicate effectively. They are destroying our future and theirs. The first amendment is almost dead and needs life support now! It really bothers me that our government is so tristed and perverted. I just hope that one day they ALL will be platered over the arrested page for defying their oaths to uphold the constitution. I believe the crime is treason. 911 was the preface to it all. Show me ONE building the terrorists IMPLODE not explode!! They can’t and they don’t. Only 3-4 companies in the world can do that and I’m sure the US govt has access to those chosen few as well. Just saying……

    1. perpetualWAR

      That was one reason I shut down my FB. The opposing side wanted all entries. When I shut it down, they then had to subpoena FB itself if they wanted my stuff. Good luck with that.

      Anyway, not being myself on the internet has been the best thing since. Incognito all the way.

  10. TedWa

    In my opinion this is ALL about protecting the elites. They live in a state of paranoia that their wealth can be taken at any moment by angry mobs and insist that governments protect them, which they are doing down to the micro management level. They’d rather turn us into curious “things” for continuous observation than treat us as human beings.

    1. perpetualWAR

      Their wealth should be threatened by angry mobs.

      I unknowingly left my car unlocked two nights ago. I awoke to find crumbs in my back seat and the passenger visor down (presumably to shut out my neighbor’s back yard light). So, it appears my car was hotel for the night for a cold homeless person. In what world do we live in where someone needs a vacant car to sleep in while a few miles away, there is an indoor bowling alley and theater in someone’s home??? I’m increasingly thinking that there is something so fundamentally wrong……

  11. Brooklin Bridge

    I think what is important is to be aware that privacy is a constitutional right, that one is not paranoid, or trying to hide something, or out of touch with modern society, simply because they want to protect those rights, and it’s important to be aware that many others, probably a majority, feel the same way. This is a huge issue that potentially affects all of us – but as usual will affect those with the least resources (and dark skin) first – and we are going to have to address it.

    Hopefully I’m wrong, but it seems as though the biggest obstacle is that there is little collective consciousness of just what damage has already been done never mind the truly ominous direction things are going in.

    1. flora

      “They: The makers of the Constitution: conferred,
      as against the government, the right to be let alone —
      the most comprehensive of rights and
      the right most valued by civilized men.”

      -Justice Louis Brandeis

    1. Stephen Gardner

      The problem there is that you have to disguise yourself before you get within paintball range. With sufficient cameras this becomes difficult.

      What about drones outfitted with a paint sprayer and a camera for aiming the spray? It might be something that needs to be derived via mods to an existing product.

      This is a good place to brainstorm. The suggestions (design ideas) can be independent of the implementation. This is free speech. And if it is disconnected from people reading and implementing then it is harder to arrest the implementers. They can silently read and do while others generate ideas.

  12. washunate

    This kind of stuff raises two very delicate questions that MMT refuses to answer: what criteria is used to distinguish between good government programs and bad ones, and who makes that determination?

    The Department of Homeland Security specifically, and 21st century fascism more generally, is funded by sovereign money, deficit spending on an enormous scale.

      1. washunate

        Because for several years, Firestone, Alt, Tcherneva, and of course Wray and Mosler and others have been claiming that MMT has a special insight into how to solve our problems. The burden of proof is on the one with a claim, especially when they are rather one-sided in vocally calling for more government yet notably silent in areas where they call for less government.

        So what is your answer? What insight does MMT offer to help us develop criteria by which to evaluate whether a program is a good idea or a bad idea? What insight does it offer in who makes that determination? This isn’t some attempt to catch you in semantics. It is a genuine intellectual query dating for several years now. What relevance does MMT have in a world where government is already using sovereign money to impose ever greater control over the lives of its citizens?

        1. Clive

          The “Blue Peter” reference may well be lost if you’re not a British citizen, but “here’s one we made earlier” — Investors in Industry did exactly that (examined business cases on a strict commercial set of evaluation criteria) and allocated funding. It had a very good track record. So good, that the Thatcher administration made moves to privatise it, which a later Conservative government completed.

          The Macmillan Report covered the subject comprehensively.

          And what became of Investors in Industry, you might ask ? Well, in a stunning, you-really-couldn’t-make-it-up bit of tragi-comedy, it was turned into a Private Equity rape-and-pillage shop.

          1. washunate

            Yeah, I really enjoy your writings Clive, but sorry, I’m pretty stuck in American political economy. I’m not familiar with what that has to do with the push that Firestone has made, for example, about the need for more deficit spending (going so far as to call high value platinum coins a game changer), or claims that Wray has made about the value of an ELR/ JG (as in a subjective judgment, not merely an objective description; he has even likened unemployment to a disease), or Tcherneva’s proposal to get nonprofits involved.

            There have been quite a few posts over the years about the need for America to do more without those MMT proponents acknowledging that the US already runs enormous deficits and has implemented authoritarian programs on a massive and growing scale. The surveillance state is one of the core examples of where society would be better off with less government spending, less employment, etc.

            Moar can be as much a problem as a solution; it depends on the details. That dilemma is what MMT advocates in the US context continue to refuse to acknowledge. So a few of us (I assume we’re in the minority here on NC) will continue to point out the problems with focusing on things like jawbs, groaf, GDP, and other aggregate measures at the expense of focusing on the distribution of resources and growing systemic oppression and injustice directed by the control freaks in charge of the nation’s major institutions.

            1. Clive

              Macmillan, Keynes et al were just trying to point out that government investment need not mean pointless (or even authoritarian) make-work schemes. As an adjunct to MMT described deficit spending, a sensible industrial policy delivered, if commercial banks were unwilling or untrustworthy enough to fulfill that role, by governments directly would address the issue of “what to do with the money”.

              1. washunate

                Keynes? He said we could work less. That’s directly contrary to statements about the need for moar that have been made by American MMT proponents.

              2. washunate

                P.S., I enjoy a small irony in that marxists.org has thought it valuable to post this particular essay from Keynes.

                Thus for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem – how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.


        2. Skippy

          “Because for several years, Firestone, Alt, Tcherneva, and of course Wray and Mosler and others have been claiming that MMT has a special insight into how to solve our problems.”

          I don’t know if this a projection based on bias or deliberate attempt to misinform e.g. MMT is not a moral or ethical based observation… cough… bimetallism. MMT only ascribes what possible policies might or might not be available – too – policy wonks as monetary optics.

          Skippy…. the human tool user problem is separate to MMT and not a result of MMT….

          1. washunate

            Not a moral or ethical observation? Wow, that’s a stronger indictment of MMT than anything even I have ever said.

            If MMT is merely an observation of what is possible, if it makes no claim to identifying some possibilities as being better than others, then that is pretty much the definition of irrelevant.

            1. Pespi

              I guess your intent is to ask, why propose mmt solutions if extra money will be used for evil.
              The answer is, the money’s already going to evil, but they pretend it doesn’t exist when it goes to the decent and the good. That would be the main ethical thrust.

              MMT is not a one step solution to the capture and corruption of government and I don’t think anyone is proposing it as such. You want it to have some built in ethical module that rejects spending for bad things, this module would be a non corrupt democracy. If you think pretending that the gov is a household constrains its behavior, ethically, well I don’t know, I would say that it does not.

              1. washunate

                Have you read any of the posts over the years, at NC and elsewhere? I’m not the one adding an ethical module. Quite the contrary, I say that things like unemployment and balanced budgets are amoral, neither inherently good nor bad. It depends on the details.

                MMT proponents, on the other hand, have advanced a value judgment about the state of not working and the nature of austerity. They claim those types of things are inherently bad, that we must put people to work and do more deficit spending.

        3. Pespi

          Who in the world said that empirical study of monetary creation has anything to say about what the money is used for?

          Money is fake, it’s a token, it’s rules. In a corrupt society ruled by a paranoid elite, money will go to a huge surveillance apparatus. In a less corrupt society it may go to fund schools, infrastructure, massive blimps to carry elephants between circuses, movie theaters where all the seats move around like star tours at disney land, whatever the hell they want.
          Criticizing mmt for the ways money is spent is like criticizing an atm when a dope fiend drains his account to get some.

          Your question is disingenuous and calling them out in this fashion is just you trying to score a little point, to make yourself feel superior to people doing real work that could have a material benefit on society.

  13. crittermom

    Aarghhhhh. This excellent article (thanks, Yves), only confirms I was born too late.
    Now in my 60’s, I’m sickened by news such as this.
    No surprise the banksters have invested in it.

    Hmmm……just wondered. Has the word “bankster” made it into the dictionary yet?
    Just checked. Not yet, apparently, but no doubt it will. Just another “sign of the times”, right?

    Time for a political revolution.

    1. Jim Haygood

      ‘Bankster’ was coined about 85 years ago:

      Judge Ferdinand Pecora has been credited with coining the term Bankster. In June 1933, his image appeared on the cover of Time magazine, seated at a US Senate table, a cigar in his mouth. Pecora’s hearings were said to have coined a new phrase, “banksters” for the finance “gangsters.”

      However, the word, with the same meaning, had appeared in the U.S. press at least a year and a half previous to that.


      According to Alexander Cockburn, Rep. Wright Patman (D-TX), sitting as chair of the House Banking Committee in the early 1970s, “snarl[ed] at then Fed chairman Arthur Burns, before him to give testimony, ‘Can you give me any reason why you should not be in the penitentiary?'”


  14. TheCatSaid

    Bizarre coincidence, a couple days ago on another NC thread someone mentioned “SQPQ”.

    The only place I found this term mentioned was a 2008 paper about “Inventory of Current Programs for Measuring Wait Times at Land Border Crossings”. It’s an official paper by the Canadian & US governments. Intriguingly, on the page where SQPQ is mentioned there is a table of various border crossings in Canada / USA / Mexico, indicating the technology used at each one (or lack thereof). Could come in handy!

    I couldn’t tell if “SQPQ” relates to the data base of license plates or border crossings.

    The link is here.

  15. Ray Phenicie

    We lost rights to privacy with the advent of the National Security Council in 1947. The Changes to the Constitution were so fundamental that the following four decades became known as that of the National Security Council Constitution. Hillary Clinton sat on the NSC during her tenure as Secretary of State and will not let anyone forget that. The ideology that all things political -must-go-before-national-security has promulgated the idea of keeping tabs on where everyone is at every moment.
    The water flushed down in the porcelain receptacle has been only yellow today for all those NSC wonks watching me-just saving you the trouble of checking.
    Previous to 1947, the FBI had the badge of honor in watching people. Before the FBI, there were private investigators like Pinkertons

    1. Pespi

      This license plate tracking and always on cell phone tracking really points to a dire need for a “right to public privacy.” “Right to move from place to place without being entered into any data sets.” “Right to exist in public without being attached to any individual height, build, gait, facial points, license plate, make and model, boot prints collated and cross referenced in any databases”

  16. Helmholtz Watson

    This type of activity might have constitutional implications in terms of the right to privacy. It’s one thing when Google or Facebook monitors all of our actions since we consent to their intrusions when we agree to use their services. In this case a third party is spying on people and then selling that information to third parties. This sounds like something where there might be valid legal challenge. We must have the right to move about our lives without having our movements tracked, logged and sold. This happens with phones and our mobile carries but again we are forced to consent to this by the terms of service. To take the argument to a logical extreme lets assume that this company has drones with listening devices that records us whenever we are in public. Would that be legal?

    1. Pespi

      We need either a constitutional “right to public privacy” that makes it clear that both analog and digital actions by citizens may not be recorded and collated, or a “right to be ignored” that permanently opts us out of all tracking through various commons, both enclosed (like facebook) and unenclosed.

  17. Jim in SC

    Thanks for this thought provoking piece.

    It is ironic, but probably lost on our government monitors, that the State has this power to surveille, yet they can’t seem to stop terrorists like the pair who committed the atrocities in San Bernardino. All this data is being collected, it seems, for dark and unknown purposes.

    1. ambrit

      This class of activity seems to fall into the category of things that are done “because it can be done.” No guiding principle needed.

  18. alex morfesis

    send the company a copyright notice and bill them 20 dollars per day for use and remuneration. your photo can not be taken by anyone and resold lest you give them a “release” to use the photo. same concept…the car, and your license plate, is private property…and would require a “release” for resale…just bill them…

  19. Pearl

    I would also like to add that such technology, in many instances, can and does discriminate against the poor.

    My friends who have more expensive or just even new(ish) basic cars have built-in technology that can detect certain speed traps and cameras; while we with old cars are never given the advantage of a “heads-up” that mph has changed or that an intersection camera or speed camera is about to record us. (And those who have apps on their iPads and pricier electronic gear external to their cars are also advantaged.)

    A friend recently gave me a hand-me-down, portable TomTom for my old car, which does often correctly signal to me when a speed limit has changed and/or when I’m coming upon an intersection that is equipped with a camera. But the TomTom (which is an older version TomTom, btw) certainly doesn’t detect surveillance as well as my friend’s iPad detects it. (Nevertheless–I am grateful for my TomTom–many folks don’t even even have that luxury.)

    Further discrimination can occur when a person from a household that earns a $15,000 annual income receives a $100-$200 fine for the same violation as a person from a household that earns a $150,000 annual income. Although I have not yet received a ticket as a consequence of such technology, the cost of a $100-$200 speeding ticket would impact my ability to purchase food, pay for utilities, or health care for the month; whereas a $100-$200 fine, although just as maddening to a high-income earner–such a fine wouldn’t likely affect his or her ability to pay for “luxuries” such as food, heat, and healthcare for the month.

    In closing, I have problems with this technology on several levels.

    But–I have to admit–the creepiness that I’m constantly being surveilled bothers me the most; it feels like a form of (“electronic?”) harassment.

    1. BEast

      On the other hand, an older vehicle cannot be hacked, and new ones can. Quite easily, if the Wired article is any indication.

      I talk below about how public transportation has become even more surveillance-infested.

  20. BEast

    And don’t think taking public transportation protects you from surveillance: in many areas, buses have a sign telling you that the bus is recorded by video and the area around the driver recorded in audio as well.

    I’m sure it’s all very reassuring to both drivers and passengers that any violent or abusive behavior will be recorded, but it’s also recording (mostly low-income) individuals (not their vehicles) for the entirety of their commutes and errands. But security! For freedom!

    1. Danny

      Many transit agencies require rfid cards to transfer, else you pay another 1.50+ care for leg 2 of a trip.

  21. Danny

    One day I’ll need to pseudonymously write an article about this topic. License plate readers are one of many companion technologies that together have similar impacts on our privacy rights. For example, governments are also using signals from toll transponders and mobile phones (wifi, Bluetooth, etc), and vehicle-to-vehicle communication.
    IMHO, we (Americans) are potentially looking at privacy the wrong way and should be looking at privacy as a matter of control over one’s personal information. In that case, although information may be publicly available, we don’t fully lose control over, or the ability to regulate how others use our online identities.
    Separately, we should also take back control of our governments with rules that require privacy impact assessments for all new collection, uses, joining, and sharing of individual data by a government, even if that person is assigned a pseudonymous identifier. It would apply to all contractors and secondary uses for data collected by contractors. Similar to environmental processes the public would have an opportunity to comment, protest, and file suit before the new tech or process goes into use.

Comments are closed.