In San Francisco, it led to a woman being mistakenly detained on her knees in front of everyone for half an hour. In Virginia, the cops are now using it to randomly take pictures of license plates.
As computer surveillance technology gets more and more sophisticated, we're going to have to start asking hard questions about how much privacy we're willing to sacrifice for safety.
Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) are being implemented in more and more police departments around the country. According to the LA Times:
Law enforcement officials say the data collection is invaluable for tracking down stolen cars and catching fugitives.
But such databases are also being built by private firms, which can sell access to anyone willing to pay, such as lenders, repo workers and private investigators. That is raising worries among privacy advocates and lawmakers, who say the fast-growing industry is not only ripe for conflicts of interest but downright invasive.
In California, legislators are already working to curb the use of the technology. Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) has introduced a bill that "would ban public agencies from sharing data they collect with private entities, prohibit license plate scanners from coming onto private property without consent and make it easier for privacy lawsuits to be filed against data collectors."
But advocates of ALPRs say the massive benefits are well worth the risk:
Last month, police used license plate data to end a monthlong hunt for a man suspected of randomly firing at cars on Kansas City, Mo., highways. A woman who thought she was being followed reported the plate number. Cops plugged that into their system and quickly had the car's past locations. Within a day, a license plate scanner passed the car and got a hit.
The most disturbing thing, however, is that these devices are often provided to police departments free of charge - but with serious strings attached. In Tempe, Arizona, the ALPR manufacturer required the police to go after 25 warrants per month provided by the company. The manufacturer would be paid by private collections companies that are paid by the state when people don't pay their fines.
What do you think? Is it worth it to catch criminals and recover stolen cars? Or do we really want tech companies influencing how the police do their jobs? Also, do you feel this technology violates your privacy? Let me know in the comments section below.