License Plate Scanners: You’re Being TrackedBy: Amanda Crum - July 18, 2013
These days, most people are aware that because of smartphones and surveillance cameras, very little public activity goes unrecorded. If you’re outside your home and live close to a decent-sized city, chances are good that you’re on camera somewhere, whether it’s at the ATM, in the grocery store, or even just walking down the street. But the American Civil Liberties Union says that a new camera system that has been implemented in many states is recording the information of innocent people, and most aren’t even aware it’s there.
The cameras are mounted on patrol cars, on overpasses, and several other places in order to record passing cars and their license plates, and the information is sometimes stored indefinitely, depending on the state. Law officials say the cameras are used to track criminals and have aided in the capture of several guilty people…but what about the rest of us?
“Trips to places of worship, political protests, or gun ranges can be powerful indicators of people’s beliefs,” writes the ACLU’s Catherine Crump. “Is it really the government’s business how often you go to the drug store or liquor store, what doctors you visit, and the identities of your friends? Should the government be logging for months, years, or indefinitely the movements of the other 99 percent of people, who are innocent? The answer to this question is no. License plate reader information can be very revealing. While one snapshot at one point might not seem sensitive, as blankets of plate readers cover our streets, and as the government stores data for longer and longer, the technology quickly morphs into a powerful tracking tool.”
Crump says that while there are definite benefits to the camera system, the amount of criminals who have been caught just isn’t enough to justify surveillance on 99% of the innocent population. And although some states delete the stored info after a matter of months, others keep it on file forever.