As the weather gets hot, and schools start closing for the summer, more and more families are climbing into their cars to hit the road. In an increasing number of places, the federal government is watching them do it, and keeping records of where and when they go.
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America makes an absolute promise: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” In spite of this promise, Americans’ “persons” and “effects” are being tracked automatically in an increasing number of places in the country.
The ACLU reports that the DEA has announced plans to keep records of all the license plates of all the cars that travel along Interstate 15 in Utah, using cameras that have the ability to scan and record the license plate numbers of cars traveling at high speeds. The DEA’s justification is that drug dealers use the road quite often to transport their illegal roads, and the tracking is necessary to discourage the criminal activity.
It’s a shame that there’s an illegal drug traffic. Really, it is. However, it’s a much bigger shame that our government feels that it’s necessary to violate the constitutional rights of a huge number of completely innocent Americans just in order to follow a few criminals.
The Fourth Amendment requires a search warrant “particularly describing the place to be searched”, but the entire length of a road stretching across a large state is not a particular place. Neither does the DEA have “probable cause” to believe that illegal drugs are being transported along that road 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. The DEA is simply searching everyone along that road on a vague hunch.
According to the ACLU, it isn’t just one road, in one state, that’s under the federal government’s watch. Automatic license plate scanners are being installed along roads all across the country.
What’s more, corporations are collecting information about Americans’ whereabouts through GPS devices and even Internet-enabled technology in cars. When the federal government asks for the records generated from such devices, most corporations won’t say no, and at other times, given the powers of surveillance laws such as the Patriot Act, they may not have a choice but to turn the information over.
If you want to keep your travel private from Big Brother these days, it’s a good idea to simply walk or take a bike… and to leave all your electronic devices at home. Even then, you’ll have to watch out for the surveillance cameras set up along the streets.
They say this constant searching is for your own good. Are you feeling the benefits yet?