Posts tagged “automated license plate readers

Wisconsin Lawmakers’ Attempt to Rein in Surveillance State

Whether one thinks of him as a traitor or a whistleblower, Edward Snowden’s leaks of information pertaining to NSA spying illustrate one thing: our government and its leaders will lie to the American people whenever they deem it necessary.

Typically, these so-called “noble lies,” a term coined by the philosopher Plato, are premised on protecting our national security interests.  In reality, no matter what the underlying purpose, untruthfulness on the part of public officials undermines the rule of law at every level of government.

In August, President Obama, during an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, proclaimed, “We don’t have a domestic spying program.”

Even though he is isolated in the White House, even a casual observer must wonder what planet the President is living on.  Has he driven down a major thoroughfare in his limo and observed surveillance cameras capturing the movements of Americans?  What about the millions of closed circuit television cameras (the square white ones) found virtually every mile or two on high traveled portions of interstate highways?  Has the President conveniently forgotten that his own administration is providing grants to local law enforcement for automated license plate readers that capture, geo-tag, and store data on the locations of our vehicles absent a reasonable suspicion? What about the NSA’s Utah Data Center, a facility that creates electronic dossiers on millions of Americans?

During my tenure at the Milwaukee Police Department, a long-time detective frequently echoed the mantra that “abuses lead to restrictions.”  If this now retired detective’s warning rings true, then the wide spread abuses and overreaching of our government, at all levels, is about to be met with a slew of regulations.

Fortunately, the state legislature in Wisconsin is finally grabbing the proverbial bull by the horns.  Two proposed bills seek to curtail the ability of the government to spy on its citizens.

The first initiative would restrict the ability of so-called Intelligence Fusion Centers from using GPS cellular telephone technology to monitor the movements of citizens without court authorization.

As things currently stand, operatives at the Southeastern Wisconsin Threat Assessment Center, located on the second floor of Milwaukee’s Police Administration Building, can keep close tabs on any cellular telephone user who leaves their “location services” on.   The software used is very Orwellian.  Even though local tax dollars are used to fund the MPD’s fusion center, federal officials and city leaders believe much of the data captured and stored is exempt from Wisconsin’s open records law.

Another bill takes aim at information accumulated from Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs).  These devices are either mounted on squad cars or at fixed locations.  Once a license plate is capture it is time stamped and geo-tagged.

The proposed bill would limit the amount of time that law enforcement can maintain the license plate information after its capture.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the Milwaukee Police Department has photographed over 9.6 million license plates since 2008.

Of course, Wisconsin’s law enforcement community is not particularly pleased with these restrictions, which limit its authority to spy on citizens absent a reasonable suspicion on any wrong doing.  Statist politicians, such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and big government police chiefs, like Milwaukee’s Edward Flynn, appear to view electronic surveillance and other measures that stretch the Constitution to its limits and beyond as a god send.

For example, Flynn, like Bloomberg, is a supporter of the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, which require officers to have a reasonable suspicion to stop a person but seems to forgo the reasonable articulable suspicion necessary for a lawful pat down.

Yet if surveillance initiatives are a god send then why does the government feel the need to conceal their activities from open records laws or, as was the case with the NSA, outright lie about them? Could it be that these leaders are fearful of what its citizens may learn: that America has become the land of the watched and home of the “Brave New World” that Aldous Huxley foretold in 1932?


Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective. His latest book, Best of the Spingola Files, Volumes I & II, is now available at

If your organization is on the lookout for an outstanding guest speaker, please consider the Spingola Files’ Psychology of Homicide presentation.

For more information, visit and click the “seminars & presentations” icon.

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2013

The President’s Ignoble Lie


Only a politician who knows that the mainstream media is in the tank for him would appear on national television and—with a straight face—tell such a whopper.

In early August, President Obama appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and told the host, “We [the United States government] don’t have a domestic spying program,” even though media reports abound that contradict this statement.

“Everybody knows I love this president, but this is ridiculous,” said Van Jones, a far-left former Obama administration advisor, while appearing on CNN. “First of all, we do have a domestic spying program, and what we need to be able to do is figure out how to balance these things, not pretend like there’s no balancing to be done.”

Splitting hairs like virtually every politician does, President Obama’s answer is, of course, predicated on what is considered “a domestic spying program.”  The reality is that the federal government, as well as state and local law enforcement (funded, in part, by the federal government), is up to their ears in  spying on Americans.

The most visible sign of domestic spying initiatives are the millions of cameras posted along interstate highways, mounted on poles at key intersections, or those little white boxes containing cameras found, in some instances, every mile on stretches of southeastern Wisconsin freeways.  This data is recorded and archived by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s State Traffic Operations Center in Milwaukee—an Orwellian facility funded, in part, with federal grant money.

At the national level, the National Security Administration (NSA) operates programs, described in detail by fugitive Edward Snowden, which can watch Americans type instant messages and e-mails in real time.  The NSA is set to open its Utah Data Center this month.  This 1,000,000 square foot facility will house trillions of Americans’ telephone conversations and e-mails. Once a user of telephone and/or an electronic device utters or types one of over 1,000 keywords, every conversation or message to-and-from that device is recorded and stored by the NSA.  Under the auspices of the USA Patriot Act, this type of wiretapping is no longer concerned eavesdropping, unless the government chooses to open an individual’s electronic dossier and listen to the recordings.

“A requirement of the 2008 law is that the NSA “may not intentionally target any person known at the time of acquisition to be located in the United States.” A possible interpretation of that language, some legal experts said, is that the agency may vacuum up everything it can domestically — on the theory that indiscriminate data acquisition was not intended to “target” a specific American citizen,” wrote CNet’s Declan McCullagh.

And that is precisely what the NSA does and what the Utah Data Center was built to store.

If the NSA and Wisconsin’s DOT’s spy center still doesn’t have one convinced that President Obama was either lying to Jay Leno or is simply inept, consider the 77 intelligence fusion centers spread across the United States.  Wisconsin has two such centers: one operated by the Milwaukee Police Department and the other housed in a benign office park on Madison’s north side.  The equipment used by these centers was purchased with Department of Homeland Security grant money.  Moreover, federal funds underwrite about 20 percent of the Milwaukee fusion center’s budget.

These high-tech fusion centers can access one’s personal information from private sector data mining companies, such as ChoicePoint, in order to ascertain an individual’s financial transactions, book purchases, vehicles and properties owned, credit information, as well as names and addresses of relatives and neighbors.  Fusion centers also use software to track cellular telephones absent judicial oversight.  This technology enables an agent of the government to follow a cell phone from room-to-room within a particular building or structure.

If recording electronic communications, obtaining personal data from private sector companies, and following cellular telephone users in real time, still doesn’t have one convinced the government is spying on virtually all of us on a daily basis, automated license plate readers—considered by some the crown jewel of state and local government surveillance—should.

In Wisconsin, over 37 law enforcement agencies use automated license plate readers (ALPR), which are generally mounted on patrol vehicles, although some are placed at fixed locations.  These devices scan hundreds of license plates of passing vehicles each minute to check on the driver’s license status, possible warrants, or other fugitive data.  These devices also record the date, time, and location that the vehicle was scanned.  This information is then stored in various databases.  Most of these automated license plate readers are purchased, in part, with federal grant money.

Fox News 6 in Milwaukee ran an excellent segment on ALPRs last November (see the below link):

But what about surveillance from the air?  By 2017, some experts believe law enforcement agencies will have access to over 33,000 Unmanned Ariel Vehicle (UAVs), also known as drones.  The Department of Homeland Security’s Customs Enforcement Division currently uses Predator drones with very intrusive surveillance equipment, including infrared that can see through the walls of homes.

A little over a week ago, I communicated with a former secret squirrel (law enforcement terminology for an agent or an officer who worked in the area of intelligence gathering), who, having observed my name on the dedication page of Mitchell Nevin’s new novel, “Psychic Reprieve,” seemed perturbed by the book’s detailed descriptions of the drone surveillance of a terror suspect and a sneak-and-peek search of the target’s home near San Diego.  He was not complaining about the novel’s factual description of the events, but that the author provided too vivid of a portrait of government operations.

So, President Obama, don’t lie to the American people. The government is spying on Americans 24 x 7 and federal money is paying for most of the gadgets as well as some of the manpower. Granted, the President knew Jay Leno wouldn’t call him out on domestic spying, which is precisely why he uttered his ignoble lie on The Tonight Show and not in front of knowledgeable journalists.


Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective. His latest print edition only book, Best of the Spingola Files, Volumes I & II, is now available at

If your organization is on the lookout for an outstanding guest speaker, please consider the Spingola Files’ Psychology of Homicide presentation.

For more information, visit and click the “seminars & presentations” icon.

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2013

Privacy Advocate: Surveillance Initiatives a Response to Coming Debt Crisis

This week, the Spingola Files (SF) had an opportunity to interview privacy advocate Miles Kinard, whose e-magazine exposé, American Stasi: Fusion Centers and Domestic Spying, shines a light on many of the technologies federal, state and local law enforcement use to monitor and track the movements of Americans.

Polls in recent weeks have given President Obama his highest approval ratings in three years. Kinard, however, believes the government is in a rush to construct an Orwellian surveillance infrastructure prior to the coming U.S. sovereign debt crisis.

                                                     *              *               *               *

SF: Now that the election is over, do you see cutbacks in the federal budget affecting the enormous federal grant outlays given to state and local law enforcement for the continued expansion of surveillance?  

MK: I don’t see the Obama administration cutting back on funds for government surveillance. I actually believe these grants will increase.  Do the math. If interest rates climb to eight percent, which they will when once investors realize the risk in U.S. Treasuries, and the national debt hits $20 trillion, the debt service—tax dollars used to pay the interest on the total owed—will consume 75 percent of all tax dollars collected by the federal government. The Obama administration will address the problem by asking the Federal Reserve to print more money—a QE4 or QE5 scenario.  Hyper-inflation will ensue, wiping-out the savings of elderly Americans.  The cost of simple commodities, like as food, will shoot-up 50 to 100 percent in a relatively short period of time.  This will cause government instability and large scale civil disturbances.

SF: What types of policies do you see being put in place in regards to surveillance to monitor and control the population?

MK: Drive down your local inter-state highway and look at what is mounted on those poles on the side of the road, on bridges, or on the roofs of squad cars. Those little white boxes, those are cameras operated, at least in Wisconsin, by the Department of Justice/State Patrol.  Some can be easily retro fitted for RFID readers, which can ascertain the VIN from a passing vehicle from a chip implanted in new tires (See the below link, inserted by SF).

Coupled with Automated License Plate Reader technology—generally cameras mounted on squad cars, although some are permanently placed at strategic locations—that capture, time stamp, and geo-tag the location of passing vehicles, and government agents will soon be able to place a license plate into a data base and easily determine the whereabouts of a vehicle.

So you see where this is going. Total surveillance, where everyone is a suspect and their individual data is stored, in some instances, up to ten years on government servers, for retrieval whenever they become a target for whatever reason—criminal or political.

SF: So you believe these enhanced technologies might be used to control constitutionally protected speech and assembly?

MK:  It is not difficult to imagine. Remember Joe the Plumber? He was the man who dared ask candidate Obama a question during the 2008 campaign in Ohio, where Obama admitted that his goal was wealth redistribution.  Within hours a Democratic Party operative in the Ohio state government unlawfully accessed a government data base in an effort to locate dirt on this man.  There they found Joe the Plumber had some type of relatively minor tax lien. This info was then leaked to other Democratic operatives and then the media in an effort to discredit a citizen who did little more than ask a simple question of a candidate for public office.

Now, let’s say a particular individual chooses to take to the streets in order to lawfully assemble, maybe to protest against the sovereign debt crisis or out-of-control government spending, i.e. the Tea Party.  No doubt this person’s image will be captured on some type of surveillance camera. These cameras might be private or public, but the 74 intelligence fusion centers throughout the country, including the two in Wisconsin, have access to the surveillance cameras of their ‘private sector partners,’ or they might be captured by drones. Real ID laws now require individuals in Wisconsin to submit to biometric photographing at the DOT.  Biometrics is a mathematical equation that is given to a facial or bodily image. A computer can then identify this image, using facial recognition software.  

Within minutes, a government agent can determine the protesting party’s identity.  

Then, an NCIC and DOT record check is run.  This will determine if the person is wanted, the status of their driver’s license and the contents of their criminal record.  Now a government an agent can do a work-up with Choice Point, a private company that collects data on all adult Americans and sells this information to the others, including the government.  Next, the agent can conduct an ‘Alpha check’ with the State Patrol do determine what vehicles the individual owns.  With the license plates in hand, data bases are then accessed to determine the travel of the vehicle’s owner.  With data procured from smart phones and computers, agents can determine what Web sites one has visited, what type of purchases were made with credit cards, financial transactions, as well as the particular movies and books a person enjoys.  The next stop is Facebook and Twitter where most Americans—like sheep being led to the slaughter—give their private information, political beliefs, and other details about them away for free. 

Hence, the government—one desperately seeking to quell discontent—can develop a dossier to smear virtually anyone who dares question the President or any other representative of the government.

SF: Why is the mainstream media turning a blind-eye to the creation of the surveillance state?

MK:  Well, let me preference the following comments by saying I am a Libertarian.  I did not support either of the big government candidates—Romney or Obama.  This is no longer just a ‘surveillance state.’  We are on the fast track to a police state.  Our judiciary is a joke. Most judges, so-called liberals or conservatives, are simply politicians more concerned about getting reelected to the bench and/or supporting their political party through their decisions than the intent of the Constitution.

Then there is the media, 90 percent of whom voted for Obama.  Never in my lifetime have I witnessed the mainstream press literally cover for a political candidate like they did Obama.  When Ronald Reagan was President, the press went crazy when the budget deficit hit $100 billion.  The press has never seriously questioned Obama on these huge annual deficits. Think about it, when Obama leaves office the national debt will likely be $20 trillion. That means Obama—the 44th U.S. President—will have racked-up more debt in eight years than all 43 prior presidents did in 232 years.

Yet even with all this debt and proof that a turn-key police state is being quickly constructed, the mainstream media simply refuses to ask Obama or any representatives of his administration any tough questions.  After all, Obama ran as the constitutional law professor who valued civil liberties.  Instead, Gitmo is still open, he has given the order to kill at least one American citizen absent due process, and has used drones in Pakistan—a sovereign nation we are not at war with—to kill terrorists and thousands of other civilians who just happened to be around the terrorists when they were killed. Remember the press grilling the Bush administration about water boarding terrorists?  Yet when the Obama administration simply kills them and the other civilians considered ‘collateral damage,’ well, there apparently is nothing for the mainstream press to skeptically see.

SF: What can Americans who value free enterprise, hard work, the true meaning of the Constitution, and limited government do to preserve the rights and freedoms of the republic?

MK: Cut federal, state, and local spending to the minimum needed to provide simple core services. A government willing to print money and borrow money at a record pace to buy votes and create an apparatus to spy on its own people is not a government that can be trusted. Whatever happened to the concept of ‘We the People’?  Support groups like EPIC (, the Rutherford Institute (, and listen to straight-talkers like Peter Schiff (  And, of course, let me make a plug here, purchase American Stasi: Fusion Centers and Domestic Spying.


Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective. His lastest book, Best of the Spingola Files, Vol. II: Here’s Looking at You, available at

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