The phrase “disruptive technology” has long since been co-opted to mean “a new iPhone app for people to share photos of their meals” but it has an original and genuine meaning as well: any technology that matures faster than society’s ability to use it constructively. The list of disruptive technologies includes entries as diverse as mustard gas and the automobile itself, but the advent of the connected world has unleashed a diverse cornucopia of unintended consequences ranging from Amazon’s destruction of brick-and-mortar retailers to the corrosive effect that the various “reunion” and “classmates” websites have on American marriages.
TTAC has covered the world of automated license plate readers (ALPRs) several times, most recently discussing a company that assists police with collecting outstanding court costs and fines against motorists in traffic. We’ve also discussed the fact that governmental use of ALPRs amounts to a sort of camel’s nose under the tent.
Here’s the rest of the camel.
Via a public records request, the Oakland Police Department has turned over 4.6 million reads of 1.1 million unique plates recorded between 2010 and 2014.
The Truth About Cars has followed the use of license plate recognition and storage technology by local law enforcement agencies, a practice that has raised alarms from civil liberties activists because of constitutional concerns over broad surveillance and the ability to reconstruct one’s movements from license plate data. Now it appears that United States Postal Inspection Service, the USPS’ own law enforcement agency has also, at least at one post office in Colorado, been collecting similar data from drivers. Though the device had apparently been operating for at least a few months, within an hour of Chris Halsne, of Denver’s KDVR television station, inquiring from the postal inspectors about a Golden, Colorado post office that had a camera positioned to record drivers’ faces and license plates, triggered as they left the post office property, the in-ground camera was removed. (Read More…)
The panopticon grows taller every day, as motorists who try to learn what information is gathered by the automatic license plate readers face roadblock after roadblock, with three cases set to determine once and for all what can be seen.
Aside from GPS-equipped starter interrupt systems, lenders have another tool to repossess a vehicle, with the added benefit of using the data obtained to acquire better contracts: license plate recognition.
A plan to create a database from collected license plate data by the Department of Homeland Security was cancelled after said plans were made known without knowledge from top officials.
TTAC has recently addressed the issue of police using scanning technology to read license plates and then store their street locations. When the story broke, it centered on a few counties in Northern California, but the American Civil Liberties Union has just released documents that show that the practice is widespread across the United States and that few of the police agencies or private companies that are scanning license plates and storing that data, making it possible to retroactively track drivers, have any meaningful rules in place to protect drivers’ privacy. There are few controls on how the collected data is accessed and used. The documents reveal that many police departments keep the information on millions of people’s locations for years, or even indefinitely, whether or not they are suspected of a crime. Data on tens of millions of drivers is being logged and stored.
The news that the police departments in California routinely scan and record license plates to create a database that can be used to retroactively track any driver’s motions and activities broke at political and civil liberty websites and is now percolating through the autoblogosphere. Jack Baruth wrote about it here at TTAC yesterday. Jalopnik has picked up the story today. Like the current issue over NSA monitoring of electronic communication involves balancing national security with Americans’ privacy from government intrusion, recording and tracking license plates can be a useful tool in solving crime but it also seems contrary to American values and rights like freedom of motion and freedom from random surveillance without probable cause. Still, if I had a vote on the matter, since law enforcement in this country hasn’t exactly had a sterling record in protecting civil liberties, I wouldn’t trust them with this technology. Who knows how the political system will eventually deal with this news, but in the meantime remember that for every technology there is some way to defeat it. In this case, it might even be legal. (Read More…)
Police in Texas have the right to stop motorists if a license plate recognition camera system suspects the vehicle’s owner lacks automobile insurance. In an unpublished ruling last Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the Texas Court of Appeals refused the attempt by Kenneth Ray Short to have a March 2010 traffic stop declared illegal.
License plate recognition, a technology that helps police track down stolen cars, that assists shopping malls in guiding customers to their cars, and that raises privacy concerns when doing so, will be used in Manly County, in Australia’s New South Wales, to combat illegal parking in local streets. (Read More…)