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The Mass Surveillance nobody is talking about
Automated License Plate Readers are a risk to law-abiding Americans
When does a license plate camera count as a violation of liberty?
When you hear the words “mass surveillance,” you probably think of Edward Snowden’s revelations that the NSA tracks everything we do online. However, such surveillace may not be our greatest concern. Jonathan Hofer, a research associate at the Independent Institute, notes that the most prolific tool of mass surveillance is in fact automated license plate readers (ALPRs).
His report on the worrisome new technology caught my attention, and I wanted to learn more. What I didn’t know when I invited him on my show is that Hofer himself was the victim of an error in the vast, byzantine database that law enforcement uses to link license plate numbers with suspected criminals.
Tune in this Sunday to find out how Hofer ended up with his rental car being surrounded by half a dozen patrol cars, before being tackled to the ground by an armed police officer in a dark parking lot on a cold November night (Spoiler alert: he wasn’t guilty).
While the presence of cameras on the roads may not seem like a threat to our liberties, Hofer’s personal story, and the countless other similar anecdotes he relays, should give us pause about adopting such mass surveillance technology given the propensity for serious “user error.”
In Other Surveillance News…
Stewart Baker has an interesting thought experiment on the Volokh Conspiracy blog, that begins with a reasonable question:
He cites a NY Post article by Miranda Devine that quotes anonymous FBI whistleblowers claiming that the agency is sending private posts from conservative accounts to the FBI for investigation. Baker is suspicious that a private company like Facebook would be comfortable violating the Federal law “prohibit[ing] electronic service providers from voluntarily supplying customer data to the government.”
However, the wording of Facebook’s denial does make him wonder whether they might be exploiting a loophole in the law whereby they can volunteer information to law enforcement when they believe that it relates to “an emergency involving danger of death or serious physical injury to any person.”
Could run-of-the-mill free speech protesting government overreach be construed as dangerous? Here, Baker is concerned:
“Any mass effort to find ‘bad’ speech on a big social media platform is bound to make a lot of mistakes, as all students of content moderation know.”
I will follow the story as it develops.
Video of the Week
Don Boudreaux highlights a 13-minute segment from a 1992 lecture by the late, great Walter Williams – who passed away last year – on the problem with the welfare state.
H/T to Libertarianism.org for digging this gem up from the archives.
ICYMI… Economics in Service of the State
Last week I spoke with Thomas DiLorenzo of the Mises Institute about his important new book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Economics, which argues that the economics profession “has been turned into the handmaiden of government in order to give a scientistic justification for things the government … wants to do.”
We see DiLorenzo’s case-in-point in the brazenly contradictory naming of the so-called Inflation Reduction Act, which will almost certainly raise prices of most things people buy – especially energy – not reduce them.
Yet Biden gets away with the lie becauase of backing from “the scientists” – in this case, economists. Here’s former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich serving as the mouthpiece for economists who act in service of the state:
Professor Robert Reich thinks that this is an argument for Biden’s economic agenda. In fact it’s an argument against the credibility of economists.
I’m looking forward to having Cathy Reisenwitz on the program for the first time to discuss her writing on decriminalizing sex work. Reisenwitz writes the “Sex and the State” Substack, and her work focuses on sex, politics, and technology.
John Stossel’s latest video for Reason TV features an interview with a prominent sex worker named Aella with strong libertarian leanings. Whether or not you agree with the morality of the profession, the core of the argument for decriminalizing sex work has to do with self-ownership – the fundamental principle of libertarianism.
Stay tuned for my interview with Reisenwitz on the show of ideas, not attitude.