Automated license plate readers are an increasingly popular tool for law enforcement. Instead of officers typing an endless string of license plate numbers into a computer, the reader scans any plates in front of the patrol car automatically.
The reader then matches plate numbers to criminal databases to see if the officers need to take action. It's an impressive system, but privacy advocates are concerned that these systems are also recording and storing locations of regular citizens. Even more worrying, some of the information is available to the public, so anyone can piece together your daily routines. And it could be about to get worse.
The city of San Jose in California is considering deputizing garbage trucks into the license plate scanning network, which already includes six police cruisers. As with a police cruiser, the reader would scan for stolen cars, or cars linked to criminals, and alert police when it found one.
The city government likes the plan because garbage trucks cover every square inch of the city in a week, which would make it much harder for criminals to hide. On the other hand, critics say it leaves the police in possession of a large database showing citizen movements. That information might leak, or it could be used in the future for other projects.
As it stands now, debate will be going for a while. Of the four privately owned garbage collection companies, at least one is confirmed as willing to join.
However, the police are questioning whether they can respond quickly enough to cars of interest that a garbage truck might spot. There's also the question of cost, with just two additional readers adding $68,400 to next year's budget.
The city council is going to keep discussing the idea and bring in the ACLU to look at the citizen privacy angle. It should be interesting to see what direction this takes.
Would you mind license plate readers on the garbage trucks in your town, or does this idea belong in a landfill? Let us know in the comments.