I recently learned that the Department of Homeland Security is soliciting bids from private companies to provide access to a database of license plate tracking. As usual, the devil is in the details.
I want you to forget big brother for a minute. Stop imagining political, social, ideological powers abusing state-sponsored mass-surveillance systems to spy on the people of the United States (or the world). We heard that story.
A year ago, the DHS created a firestorm when they said they wanted to create their own license plate database, but to nobody’s surprise, the private market already had one, and DHS just needed to ask TLO.
Digital Operatives recognizes that there is a tradeoff between liberty, convenience, and security and that sometimes the line is blurry. We sometimes have interesting knowledge and insights because we are in Washington, D.C. We are proud of the work we do for the Federal Government AND industry (albeit sometimes sensitive).
Regardless, it is hard, as a citizen, to not have dystopian views of both the potential abuses at the nation-state level, by commercial businesses (local, national, and international), or even your neighbor. Just imagine your stalker ex-boyfriend knowing your every move by paying for access to a database of your license plate hits, or credit card purchases.
Yesterday and today I posed thought experiments to various people, as I usually do when faced with a new understanding of the world we live in. One of the questions is, what if you no longer were free to test drive a car when you go to a dealership because the Dealer already knows when you walk in the door that you don’t qualify for ANY loan? What if the SYSTEM, that tracks you EVERYWHERE, is available to discriminate each and every choice you make, even if it only hints you along to a choice that you THINK you make, but don’t really have the power to make on your own? In other words, perhaps someday you will not have the ability to choose, because all of your choices will be made by people that understand you better than you know yourself. Don’t believe me? How many times did you order laundry detergent from Amazon last year, or the grocery store? Want to bet that Amazon already knows the answer?
This dystopian view of information, power, influence, and control is unfortunately not far from reality when every piece of information about you is tracked, digitized, stored, and processed each and every time you take a breath. I for one want to know how my information is being used, whether it is on facebook, or because I go through a toll booth. You should too.
P.S. As a shameless plug, Digital Operatives as a company has a sophisticated understanding of the intersections between security and society. We hope to also make technologies that make the experience better for everyone. To give people real liberty, security, convenience, and perhaps even the pursuit of happiness.