License plate reading abuse liberties

Mar 10, 2013 by

JackbootAs Greece Police Officer Nick Marello eases his cruiser down Latta Road, his trunk-mounted automatic license plate reader — a Mobile Plate Hunter 900 — gets to work.

A snapshot of each car that zips by, on the right or on the left, pops up on Marello’s console-mounted laptop computer. Instantaneously, software reads the license plate number, and records the date, time and GPS location, and compares the plate against a downloaded database of stolen cars and suspended vehicle registrations.

A positive match sets off a computer alarm, giving Marello the signal to initiate a traffic stop. On a good day, a cruise or two down West Ridge Road can generate dozens of hits, he said.

“It’s like having another officer in the car with you, doing nothing but running plates.”

Day or night, the Mobile Plate Hunter 900 can scan nearly 2,000 cars a minute.

No matter where you’re going or where you’ve been in Monroe County, the state and throughout the country, chances are that your whereabouts and license plate information’s been captured by a computerized police camera like Marello’s.

The information-gathering power of the devices, known as ALPRs for automatic license plate readers, is enormous and invaluable, say law enforcement agencies from the Department of Homeland Security to local police departments. Millions of dollars in federal grant money has been doled out in recent years to equip state and local law enforcement with the devices. Market demand has compressed the price tag per unit from a high of more than $20,000 a few years ago to as little as $12,000 now.

As the devices proliferate, civil libertarians and citizens worry that the technology is outpacing privacy laws and can be used to create wide-scale tracking databases.

“What kind of data are they collecting on law-abiding citizens like myself?” said Steve Barnhoorn of Ontario County, responding to a social media inquiry to weigh in on license plate readers. Although he’s not concerned about any of his activities, and sees the remarkable crime-fighting powers of the devices, he’s uncomfortable with any government agency holding on to so much data about private citizens. “And what will authorities do with the information once it is collected? There’s the potential for abuse and who will be responsible for safeguarding our liberties?”

via Watchdog: License plate reading goes high-tech | Democrat and Chronicle |

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