Why Does The IRS Need To Track License Plates?

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Among the many Federal agencies that have cumulatively awarded nearly half a million dollars’ worth of contracts to a California-based license plate tracking and cataloging vendor over the past few years, the Internal Revenue Service’s reported $1,188 investment might seem comparatively insignificant.

It’s not. Instead of paying a ton of money to buy a dedicated chunk of service from Vigilant Solutions — a company that provides license plate recognition and databasing equipment and services, as well as facial recognition technology — the IRS essentially paid an access fee to search and retrieve license plate data from a list.

Bloomberg reported last week that the most recent IRS deal with the company, which ensured the IRS “access to nationwide data,” ran from June 2012 through May 2013. It’s not known whether the agency currently has an arrangement with other Federal agencies to access the same data.

While many of the Federal contracts with Vigilant have been allowed to expire — in part because of pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union, which successfully thwarted a pending Department of Homeland Security contract that would have dwarfed any other agreement with the company — the reason for the IRS’s involvement in the surveillance and tracking sphere has never been explained.

“The IRS uses a variety of investigative tools similar to other law-enforcement agencies to assist with criminal cases,” an agency spokesman told Bloomberg — but he wouldn’t elaborate on how the IRS uses the license plate data.

And regardless of whether most Federal agencies have — for the moment — allowed their agreements with Vigilant to lapse, there’s still no reason to believe the government has reversed its implicit assumption that any agency should have carte blanche access to mass surveillance data.

“The American public deserves to know the degree to which the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies are already tapping into these databases,” a Massachusetts ACLU representative told Bloomberg. “The cancellation of the solicitation itself has no measurable impact on the existing reality, which is that we are all being tracked right now.”

Note from the Editor: : Under the Obama Administration, the NSA, the IRS, and the State and Justice departments are blatantly stepping on Americans’ privacy—and these are just the breaches we’re aware of. I’ve arranged for readers to get a free copy of The Ultimate Privacy Guide so you can be protected from any form of surveillance by anyone—government, corporate or criminal. Click here for your free copy.

Personal Liberty

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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