Judge Andrew Napolitano: DHS License Plate Tracking is Right Out of East Germany

by | Feb 20, 2014

Judge Andrew Napolitano, speaking with Stuart Varney on Fox Business this week, passionately denounces the United States Department of Homeland Security effort to indiscriminately track our movements with automated license plate readers. Napolitano, an RPI Advisory Board Member, explains for Varney the problem with the tracking:

Varney: What’s wrong with a police department — an instrument of government — taking a picture of a license plate, shooting it up to a satellite, a database, and back comes the information on whether this is a good guy or a bad guy? I don’t see what’s wrong with that.

Napolitano: Because the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution puts a bar on the ability of police to commence an investigation, and they have to jump over that bar, and that bar is called “articulable suspicion.” So, if they think there is something wrong — that the person driving the car is a bad guy, they can check it out. But, they cannot willy-nilly check out anything they want. The reason for that clause in the Fourth Amendment is to ensure that the police will only go after people when there’s a reasonable suspicion that they’re doing something wrong. They cannot commence an investigation of anybody they want. Otherwise, that brings us to East Germany.

Watch the full interview here:

The Napolitano interview and other reporting on the matter this week arose from a US government solicitation for companies to submit proposals to provide a national database of license plates to be used in conjunction with automated license plate readers.

Ellen Nakashima and Josh Hicks report in the Washington Post that DHS cancelled on Wednesday that particular solicitation. Revealingly, the US government representative quoted in the Washington Post account says the solicitation was cancelled just because it had not been posted via the proper procedure:

The solicitation, which was posted without the awareness of [US Immigration and Customs Enforcement] leadership, has been cancelled,” ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said in a statement. “While we continue to support a range of technologies to help meet our law enforcement mission, this solicitation will be reviewed to ensure the path forward appropriately meets our operational needs.”

The Privacy SOS blog of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts offers the interesting speculation that the purpose of the solicitation was to cement in place a particular company — Vigilant Solutions — as the foremost recipient of the US government’s license plate database-related business.

One thing is for sure: the withdrawal of the solicitation in no way indicates that the US government is stepping back even an inch from its mass spying. Indeed, the US government continues moving forward in its effort to automatically monitor and catalogue our movements, whether by following the whereabouts of our cars, our phones, and, even, our faces.


  • Adam Dick

    Adam worked from 2003 through 2013 as a legislative aide for Rep. Ron Paul. Previously, he was a member of the Wisconsin State Board of Elections, a co-manager of Ed Thompson's 2002 Wisconsin governor campaign, and a lawyer in New York and Connecticut.

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