Big Brother is along for the ride

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Don’t look now, but someone is joining your travels:  Big Brother.

You assume you’re alone, traveling in your car to and from work?  No, you are being watched.  All along I-95 TV cameras are looking for accidents and slow downs.  Though there are specific state laws prohibiting the use of those cameras to write speeding tickets, they can follow your car by model, color and license plate number.

Many local cops’ cruisers have license plate readers, scanning every plate and sending its information to a national database that can alert the officer to outstanding warrants, lack of insurance and other stoppable offences.  Some departments store their scan data for weeks, others for years.

Now, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) is contracting with a private company to have access to a billion license plate records, allowing the agency to know where you were and when.

If you have an EZ-Pass, it’s being “pinged” for more than just paying tolls.  The NYC Department of Transportation uses hundreds of E-ZPass readers in Manhattan, it says, to monitor the flow of traffic.  But the New York Civil Liberties Union calls that an invasion of privacy.

And, of course, our cell-phones are constantly transmitting our location and speed to services like Google and Waze, though you can turn that off.  It’s even alleged that hackers can use Waze to track you.  And have you checked your Google Location History lately to see everywhere you’ve been and when?

Even outside of your car, you’re still being followed.  Metro-North just added security cameras to its trains, watching both the engineer and the passengers.  There are cameras, as well, at stations and on NYC buses.  MTA (and NYPD) can easily track every swipe of your MetroCard (tied to your credit card).  Of course, they’re only looking for bad guys, not you.  Right?

Traveling by air?  Well, in addition to a full luggage search and body pat-down by the TSA, now the airlines and U.S. Customs agency are using facial recognition to allow you to board your flight and leave the country.

If you’re bound for Aruba on JetBlue out of Boston you won’t even need a boarding pass as your face will identify you to the airline… and who knows who else.  The whole process take two or three seconds and is billed as a “convenience”.

U.S. Customs hopes to use facial recognition for arrivals into this country starting this summer.  Meantime your RFID chip-enabled passport will be necessary.  But do you know what information about you is encoded in that chip?  U.S. Customs says there is no personal data on the chip, just a reference number corresponding to your personal information stored on their computers.

Like all RFID chips, your passport’s can be “pinged” from up to 30 feet away, so some travelers are now shielding their passports with expensive wallets lined with metal.

Don’t want Big Brother to join you on your journeys?  Wear a disguise, strip yourself of all technology, and try walking or riding a bike.  Or just stay home, curled up in a paranoid-induced ball, worrying.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media. Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting.


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