Police to Track All Vehicles into New York City

The New York City Police Department is now planning on tracking the movements of all vehicles entering Manhattan in a federally funded program designated “Operation Sentinel.” Of course, this massive assault on privacy is being done to track and screen out “terrorism.” And according to the Associated Press:

Police say Operation Sentinel would rely on license-plate readers, radiation detectors and closed-circuit cameras installed at the 16 bridges and four tunnels serving Manhattan. About a million vehicles drive onto the island every day. The vehicle data would be analyzed by computers programmed with information about suspicious vehicles. . . . There is no estimate yet of the cost, because Operation Sentinel is in just the planning phase.

The first real point here is that the New York City police are admitting that since they neither know who are actual terrorists or how to find them, everyone is a criminal suspect and will be monitored in the stereotypical bureaucratic belief that extracting information on everyone will somehow solve the problem. But, don’t worry:

Police say law-abiding people have nothing to fear: Vehicle data deemed innocent would be purged after 30 days.

Translation: spying, collecting files, and then keeping the information on permanent record is entirely at the discretion of the police bureaucracy. In all:

The plan calls for 116 stationary and mobile license-plate readers and 3,000 closed-circuit cameras that would be monitored by officers at a command center.

The official, 585-page 9/11 Commission Report indicates that government agencies utterly failed even though they had all the information they needed to identify and apprehend terrorists that attacked the World Trade Center and elsewhere, and most of this information was based on tips, not public surveillance. According to Fred Kaplan at Slate:

It turns out that many individuals, panels, and agencies had predicted an attack uncannily similar to what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. The problem was that nobody in a position of power felt compelled to do anything about it.

The second point is that the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights states that, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated . . . .” But this has certainly not stopped government intrusions into the private lives of innocent people, all of which is based on the “precautionary principle” that abridging the rights of a peaceful, law-abiding individual is justified even if the risk of harm is negligible. But once again, the end never justifies the means, and the rule of law is based on the enduring principles that every person is innocent until proven guilty and that no one, including the police and other government officials, has the right to infringe on the rights of others.

As Benjamin Franklin noted in 1775:

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

And the lessons of this great insight are superbly discussed in Senior Fellow Robert Higgs‘s recent book, Neither Liberty Nor Safety: Fear, Ideology, and the Growth of Government. Security of course remains a very real issue and in fact crucial to securing liberty and a lawful society, but non-invasive, cooperative, private measures are the solution, as Senior Fellow Bruce Benson shows in his book, To Serve and Protect: Privatization and Community in Criminal Justice.

David J. Theroux is Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Institute and Publisher of the quarterly journal, The Independent Review.
Full biography and recent publications
Beacon Posts by David Theroux
  • Catalyst
  • MyGovCost.org
  • FDAReview.org
  • OnPower.org
  • elindependent.org