Commentary

04.18.14

Automatic License Plate Readers: A Recipe for Trouble

By and

Privacy isn’t about hiding your information. Privacy is about controlling your information. That’s why automatic license plate readers (ALPR’s) are so troubling.

There’s nothing new about police officers checking individual license plates sporadically throughout the day. But a machine that scans every single plate that passes by 24/7 is something totally different.

Once an ALPR scans your license plate, you have lost control of your personal information.

Policy Coordinator Melissa Bilancini discusses this issue in her 4/13/2014 Op/Ed for Cleveland.com. Here is an excerpt.

This is a technology that stores photos, license plate numbers, dates, times, and precise locations for every single car that passes by, regardless of whether or not the person in that car has done anything wrong. More importantly, this happens without so much as one solitary statewide guideline to govern how long the data is being kept or with whom it is being shared.

This is a recipe for trouble.

Consider the vast differences in how law enforcement agencies are currently using ALPR systems. An ACLU records request found that the Ohio State Highway Patrol deletes all non-hits immediately. That means if you don’t set off any flags, they don’t keep your information. Period. Meanwhile, the Franklin County Sheriff keeps your data for 90 days. Others, like the Cleveland Police Department, who provided no retention policy, presumably keep your information forever.

If that doesn’t concern you, it really should.

What you do, who you know, and where you go – they want it all. Corporations want this information to sell you shoes and pharmaceuticals. The government wants it for something else entirely.

Without rules, ask yourself how long it will be before this stored data is poached by some shadowy government agency and combined with other tidbits of information to create a digital profile. One that identifies your political persuasion, religious beliefs, and marital bliss.

Given the records leaked by Edward Snowden about National Security Agency surveillance practices, I’d wager these profiles already exist for many Americans.

Read the rest of Melissa’s column at Cleveland.com.

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