How Government Officials, Entrepreneurs & Stalkers Use ‘Back Doors’ to Monitor Your Movements

Over the course of the past year, SF has taken the mainstream media to task for its failure to inform the public about the ever expanding, post 9/11 surveillance state.

Libertarians and Constitutionalists argue that our federally elected officials used the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, committed by Islamic radicals, as a pretext to gut the Fourth Amendment protections of ordinary Americans. Some experts believe that since 9/11, the federal government has spent $350-$600 billion building a high-tech, domestic spying infrastructure designed to chronicle the day-to-day movements of virtually all individuals absent a suspicion of wrong doing.

Earlier this month, Fox News 6 in Milwaukee—to their credit—did an investigative segment on Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) technology.

While the Fox News 6 report does an excellent job explaining how police agencies use the technology, the segment failed to elaborate on how local, state and federal authorities plan to store and use the data captured by license plate readers installed on squad cars, bridges, toll roads, and poles along interstate highways.

At a 2010 National Institute for Justice Conference, Dale Stockton, a program manager for the Automated Regional Justice Information System in San Diego, addressed a panel of police officials and prosecutors concerning the politics of sharing ALPR data, and was recorded saying:

“We’re probably not going to have any centralized national giant bucket of license plate reader data. It probably wouldn’t stand the court of public opinion, and it’s probably something that, given where we are in the rollout cycle, wouldn’t easily be done, but we can develop regional sharing capability…”

What is this “regional sharing” initiative that Mr. Stockton describes?

“Regional sharing” is bureaucratic speak that makes use of a series of loopholes permitting law enforcement, in virtually any jurisdiction throughout the United States, to obtain the information collected by ALPRs specific to the date, time, and geographical location of any particular vehicle.

“Every law enforcement agency has a connection to Nlets,” Stockton told the conference attendees. “Nlets would serve not as a storage unit but as a pointer system, something akin to a Google, so that when you check a plate, Nlets would point you in the direction of where that plate can be found, and the result of that would be a query in one state by an investigator could give an indication of plates of interest in other states, and then that information can be pulled back in of a particular license plate.”

The Nlets network Mr. Stockton is referring to is the Web portal for the International Justice and Public Safety Network, an online, password accessible data base for authorized law enforcement users—an online file accessible to hackers.

Making “buckets” of data collected from the license plates of vehicles parked in supposedly public places or operated on public roadways is something voters, elected officials, and policy makers should openly and honesty debate. This discussion—one with huge privacy implications—can only occur when public officials—those who wish to use tax dollars to purchase the equipment and staff intelligence fusion centers—are straight forward and do not attempt to hoodwink the public and the mainstream media.

When it comes to ALPRs the issues that matter are data access, the security of the numerous data bases involved, and the length of time that the data is stored and/or available for retrieval.

In Minnesota, for example, information obtained by ALPRs is a public record.  Five organizations have filed an open records request for Minnesota’s entire 2.5 million records captured and stored in that state’s ALPR data base.

At least one of these organizations sells data to the public online. In other words, a stalker or anyone else seeking the dates, locations, and times of a particular individual would know the whereabouts of this person’s vehicle if captured by taxpayer funded ALPRs.

In Wisconsin, as the Fox News 6 report notes, an open records request made through a local police agency does reveal when and where a license plate was tagged by an ALPR.

To view a list of the Wisconsin law enforcement agencies making use of ALPRs, visit this link:

Sources claim that the Milwaukee Police Department currently has 15 squad cars outfitted with ALPRs, although none are currently attached to fixed locations within the city limits proper. Smaller police departments, such as Crivitz, Coleman, and Ripon, also have ALPRs, while larger jurisdictions—Madison, Eau Claire, and Waukesha—are in the process of applying for federal grants to cover the $15,000-$17,000 cost of a single ALPR unit.

Make no mistake about it: the annual trillion dollar deficits the federal government’s been racking-up since 2009 won’t stop local law enforcement agencies from applying for their share of ‘free money.’


Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective. His book, Best of the Spingola Files, Vol. I, is available at

Spingola’s soon-to-be-released book, Best of the Spingola Files, Vol. II: Here’s Looking at You, is set for release in December 2012.

If your group is in need of a fascinating guest speaker, consider the Spingola Files’ Psychology of Homicide presentation.

For more information, please visit:

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2012

2 Responses

  1. Jason

    This is why I really like reading your blog, Steve! I never thought about where all this information was collected or analyzed.

    November 25, 2012 at 1:01 pm

  2. wendy

    I wondered what happened to all the information the government gathered on us and how they shared it. This is really scary ;

    November 27, 2012 at 11:16 am

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