The heinous terrorist attacks perpetrated in Paris on Nov. 13, which left approximately 132 dead and many more wounded, are yet another example of the precarious world we live in. To no one’s surprise, the Islamic State, a.k.a. ISIS, soon took credit for these atrocities. A major break in the case came for police when a car with Belgian plates was identified as having been rented by an individual associated with ISIS fighters in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek. This identification led to the first three arrests in the case.
So once again, we have an associated motor vehicle being one of the key elements not only of the crime but also of its solution. It is a sobering reminder that the vast majority of criminal activity, whether related to terrorism or not, is associated in some way with a motor vehicle. That is the reason that Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) has proven itself time and again to be one of the most effective technologies available for both deterring and solving crime.
It does not appear that ALPR technology was used in this case; however, it is difficult to know when or even if the perpetrators and their origin would have been identified without the presence of the Belgian rental car. This has been the case in so many crime and terrorism scenarios, that it must be asked: How can anyone still doubt that this technology, which helps law enforcement and security agencies identify vehicles and associated persons faster than any other tool available, needs to be deployed everywhere possible, and quickly?
Personally, I believe that we would already see a much wider proliferation of ALPR, particularly in the U.S., were it not for the activities of groups that like to call themselves “civil rights advocates” or “privacy advocates.” I refer, of course, to organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Both of these groups have seemingly made it their mission to curtail or restrict the use of ALPR wherever they can, their ultimate aim being to do away with it completely. Their reasoning? That ALPR supposedly violates privacy rights because it stores pictures of people’s license plates along with the time, date and location of the picture in a database.
Never mind that that information is perfectly legal for anyone to acquire, whether a member of a police agency or not. Never mind that it means nothing unless it is checked against a law enforcement database, which is where all the personal information about the registrant is kept. Never mind that U.S. Case Law has already established a precedent that there is no expectation of privacy with regard to a license plate.
Unfortunately, the ACLU, EFF, and other similar groups have run a successful propaganda campaign, with the help of a compliant press that never disagrees with them, that has managed to convince a significant portion of the population that ALPR is the incarnation of Orwell’s “Big Brother.” Thanks to them, many Americans believe that any agency equipped with ALPR can track every driver’s movements 24/7, and that these agencies are doing so.
Frustratingly for those of us who know the truth, they have successfully made this case without much of any evidence that this kind of comprehensive tracking of motorists is even happening. Meanwhile, there is ample evidence of lives saved and crimes solved or thwarted by ALPR.
Many of our lawmakers have jumped on the bandwagon of paranoia and introduced bills aimed at incrementally reducing the abilities of law enforcement, Homeland Security, or, indeed, anybody to use the technology to its fullest capacity.
Many of the bills have passed, and although they may seem innocuous now, they are only the gateways to more Draconian restrictions to come. Don’t think for a moment that, just because a few little regulations have passed, the ACLU will stop applying pressure and move on.
This should keep you awake at night because attacks like the ones in Paris will eventually occur on American soil. It is not a question of if, but when. We have been fortunate so far in the sense that terrorist incidents within our borders have been relatively mild, few, and far between since 9/11, but it won’t stay that way. It can’t. Our enemies are determined and are unafraid of death in the name of their cause.
Furthermore, their numbers are growing on a daily basis as they continue to recruit from all over the globe via social media. Don’t forget that—they are willing to use any technological tool they can find against us, without concern for anyone’s privacy rights. Can we really afford to put our nation’s safety second to a privacy argument that doesn’t have much of any legal foundation to begin with?
If we do, we run the risk of exposing innocent people to attacks that could have been stopped, and make our nation more vulnerable to a group of extremists with a bastardized religious philosophy that only wants to destroy anything that is not itself. If that happens, I will hold the ACLU, the EFF, and groups like it responsible, because it is they who have convinced the American people that a technology designed to protect them is being used to spy on them.
These people do nothing but help protect our enemies’ ability to harm us. They do not offer solutions of their own. They merely carry on and on about how a technology could possibly be abused. I’m sick to death of this argument; outlawing something doesn’t guarantee it won’t be used for an evil purpose. After all, France has very strict gun control laws and the perpetrators managed to get guns anyway, because they were unconcerned with the law. All the laws did was make it less likely that firearms would be used for good. Laws against ALPR will do the same thing.
Automatic License Plate Recognition is a necessity to keep us safe in today’s world. Paris helps establish the proof. What we need to do now is act on it.