Police Cameras Are Recording License Plate Information As They Drive Around

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Very troubling technology.  This means that there will be no privacy whenever your registered vehicle is visible from any public place.

The following is a summary.  The full article, from the Seattle Times, is available here.

The thousands of photos are entered into a Seattle Police Department database where, for the three months before they are destroyed, they’ll be available for use in criminal investigations.

…Automatic license-plate readers have been in the arsenal of large police departments for nearly a decade, but are now getting new scrutiny amid broader concerns about government surveillance.

…In Seattle, which piloted the technology in 2006, public records indicate 12 police units collected about 7 million license-plate records last year, identifying 426 stolen cars and 3,768 vehicles with at least four unpaid parking tickets.

…“These devices got rolled out, thrown out there without any real thinking or policies, and it opened up a new world of concerns,” said Jamela Debelak of the ACLU’s Washington state branch.

…Mayor Mike McGinn ordered the SPD to ground its drone program in February, and the City Council voted the next month that more public input was needed before police activated cameras along the waterfront.

Ryan Calo, an assistant law professor at the University of Washington, said license-plate readers may be the biggest issue of all because they can randomly travel around the entire city, collecting information and storing it.

…Seattle police have not moved as quickly as in cities like New York City and Washington, D.C., which now rely heavily on license-plate readers.

…The parking program has five units (two minivans, two cars and a truck) that identify stolen cars, issue parking citations and, most of all, find vehicles whose owners have at least four parking tickets.

…The Washington State Patrol uses ALPR cameras on the Seattle-Bainbridge Island ferry, at truck weigh stations and on patrol cars looking for stolen vehicles, said spokesman Bob Calkins.

…Washington, like most states, does not have any law about license-plate readers (the Legislature did approve a bill last year to regulate red-light cameras).

…But Bruce Harrell, who chairs the Seattle City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee, and is running to unseat McGinn, said he doesn’t think police should use the database for after-the-fact criminal investigations.

…“At the very least,” said Taylor, R-Moxee, “I’d hope that local law-enforcement agencies, if they’re going to do this, would at least have a discussion about it.”

United States Negotiating Secret Agreement to Store Passenger Data for 15 Years

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Can you believe we had to find out about this from a UK-based Newspaper?  The Guardian is reporting that it obtained a “restricted” draft of an agreement between Washington and Brussels that would allow the US to retain all passenger information about anyone who flies between the UK and the US for 15 years.

They will be keeping everything — Names, Address, Credit Card Numbers, Credit Information, Ethnic Origin, Political Opinions, and details of Health and Sex Life.  Everything they can get their hands on.  Absolutely amazing.  Or maybe not…

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Biofuels Could Cause More Harm Than Good

Prof. Steven Hamburg was currently in Washington, DC, attending a biofuels workshop – there was a lot of interest in linking the science and policy to ensure that biofuels help farmers, address climate change, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and protect the environment and economy. That is possible with the right policy instruments.

The move to biofuels is a good thing in moderation – too much and we could actually cause a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions. There are several concerns with biofuels. Central among them is that if we use productive lands to produce biofuels we can directly or indirectly cause increased rates of deforestation and release of stored carbon in a variety of landscapes.

And to the extent food diverted to biofuels is not replaced, because higher prices reduce demand, the world’s poorest people will bear much of the cost. That represents a greenhouse gas benefit but not an acceptable one.

Opportunities to produce environmentally beneficial biofuels come from:

  • municipal or industrial waste
  • agricultural wastes
  • harvesting fall grass from agricultural reserve lands
  • tapping into unutilized forest harvest byproducts
  • Increased forest harvesting when sustainable

Biofuels do not have to be liquid fuels, in some situations it makes more sense to directly burn biofuels.

Prof. Steven Hamburg
Head of the Global Environment Program
Watson Institute for International Studies
Brown University, Box 1970
Providence, RI 02912-1970
Email: Steven_Hamburg@brown.edu

Prof. Steven Hamburg – Biography

Steven Hamburg is an ecosystem ecologist specializing in the impacts of disturbance on forest structure and function. His research activities have most recently focused on linking climate change impacts to climate change mitigation, including in the corporate sector. He has served as an advisor to both corporations and non-governmental organizations and was awarded an Environmental Merit award by the US Environmental Protection Agency for his climate change-related activities.

At Brown he is the advisor for the environmental science concentration and graduate advisor for the Center for Environmental Studies, as well as director of Watson’s Global Environment Program. He is the vice chair of the International Long-term Ecological Research Network, whose first secretariat is being established at Watson.

He has published widely including in Nature and Science and has served as a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Hamburg came to Brown in 1995 after spending a year at Environmental Defense working on climate change-related issues and nine years at the University of Kansas, where he directed the Environmental Studies Program and served as Environmental Ombudsman. He received his graduate training at Yale University, held a post-doctoral position at Stanford University, and was a Bullard Fellow at Harvard University.

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