CBP Blurs Scope of Surveillance State

As the surveillance capabilities continue to expand under the guise of national security, one of the beneficiaries and participants is the CBP.

July 20, 2020

By: Bobby Casey, Managing Director GWP

cbp surveillance Last week I talked about countries like China moving toward a digital currency, and the US entertaining that idea. It will inevitably propel the surveillance state, strike another nail in the coffin of privacy, and extend expropriation powers to banks or government (depending on how it is structured).

I’m very worried about the future of anonymity and privacy. And there’s a lot coming at folks at once. Fiat digital currency is one, contact tracing another, Clearview AI, and still the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) pushes further to identify people just driving down a piece of road.

The CBP intends to aggregate their license plate image database with the ones from local and state governments, law enforcement agencies, parking garages, toll booths and financial institutions.

Per their assessment, the stated purpose is: toidentify individuals, or vehicles, involved in criminal activity which may need additional scrutiny when attempting to cross the border or to identify and locate suspects involved in terrorist activities.

Zerohedge goes on to say:

CBP said most Americans “might not be aware” that ALPRs are deployed at border crossings to collect license plate information. The agency said people should avoid areas where ALPRs are deployed if they don’t want to be surveilled.

ALPRs are “Automatic License Plate Readers”. They are deployed at ever border crossing but if you’ve ever driven between California and Arizona, there are border check points where they only have you slow down and pass you through. That border isn’t between the US and Mexico. It’s between two US states.

The idea that you can just “avoid” them is like saying you can avoid having your metadata collected if you just don’t use a cell phone.

But if you were looking for a way to visualize what metadata collection looks like, this is it. Much like tracking the number you are calling and from where, so too are they tracking your license plate and where it’s been.

Alright. Let’s say you or I want to avoid the ALPRs. It’s on me to navigate around them. Is that actually possible? No. The CBP admits there’s no practical way to avoid their license plate tracking short of just not driving a car. Their own spokesperson, Matthew Dyman, compares avoiding these ALRPs to avoiding speed guns in DC.

This program allows them to collect well outside their 100 mile from the border zone. That is, Kansas is as susceptible as Texas to this program.

Their own assessment concluded that there is an “enhanced” risk to individual privacy with this program, but they have a plan to mitigate that:

CBP said that it will reduce the risk by only accessing license plate data when there is “circumstantial or supporting evidence” to further an investigation, and will only let CBP agents access data within a five-year period from the date of the search.

This is already bad enough. But there’s always more right?

In this case, there’s a major vulnerability in ALPRs: internet security. According to TechCrunch:

[S]ome cameras are connected to the internet, and are easily identifiable. Worse, some are leaking sensitive data about vehicles and their drivers — and many have weak security protections that make them easily accessible.

This has been an issue since 2014 with little having changed since then.

Ultimately all this additional risk, infringement on the privacy of individuals, just to catch some folks who might not have their immigration papers in order seems an awful long way for a hot dog.

The problem with all of these surveillance programs and technologies offered in the name of border security is, it never stops there.

Very recently, CBP launched a predator drone over Minneapolis to monitor the George Floyd protests in that area. Important to note here that Minneapolis falls outside their 100 air mile zone in which they are authorized to use these drones.

A federal surveillance deployment for a city protest is not okay. Homeland Security sent in CBP and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in June to help local law enforcement in areas with civil unrest. Congress happened to agree:

Earlier this month, 35 congressional Democrats demanded that CBP, as well as the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Guard Bureau, permanently cease surveilling peaceful protests. They said the use of Predator drones to collect live video feeds of protests was an overreach of power.

These are the feds who are helping to reign in the hot spots? Talk about a mission creep. Why would there need to be federal involvement in street protests? But of all the federal agencies, why border patrol and immigration?

According to a study done by the Cato Institute:

Predator B drones operated by the agency contribute little to actions like drug seizures and apprehending people attempting to enter the U.S., but they do give CBP warrantless surveillance powers that it has lent to other agencies on hundreds of occasions.

This kind of versatility ascribed to agencies with rather clear job descriptions in their title is disconcerting, to say the least. But we are seeing a lot of blurry lines lately. Consider the following:

1. NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) passes under Obama in 2012. It allows for indefinite detention of terrorists.

2. President Donald Trump wants to declare Antifa a terrorist organization. Regardless of how you feel about them, this could happen to anyone. It wasn’t that long ago when Conservative groups were being targeted by the IRS.

3. Recent articles started cropping up of federal agents picking up protesters and detaining them.

4. A New York Supreme Court judge rules that these protesters can be detained indefinitely.

This is precisely why people must defend the rights of those they disagree with: because it could just as easily have been you or me if we fit the description du jour. The rules are malleable. The definitions are fungible. The roles are vague and versatile.

This is how you get CBP and ICE helping local law enforcement with protests and the suspension of habeas corpus for those protesters.

Please be vigilant in defending your identity, privacy, and freedoms.

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