After spending two years with only an automatic license plate reader as a partner, a local Ohio police officer says it is an invaluable law enforcement tool. Interesting details on it’s use are provided in this news item in the Dayton Daily News.The officer is quoted as saying that this system accounts for an extra 6 or 8 arrests per week, often by locating people with outstanding criminal warrants.
One noteworthy arrest came from driving down a residential street. A car was parked at a home, where the owner of the vehicle was sought for a felony warrant for failure to pay child support, but her listed address was on the other side of town.
After some investigation, it was determined that the woman had moved two weeks earlier, likely in an effort to evade the police and the warrant.
Now, most people would applaud this efficient use of technology for police to locate people sought by the law.
But one should seriously consider if there are negative implications with the police locating and tracking everyone parked on a residential street, in their homes.
It is true that only cars that are wanted by police will display active alerts. But to get to this point, ever plate is scanned, stored, and matched. So the police now have a record of where you are, every time a police car drives by.
Who has access to this data, and for what purposes? Can the police now search backward to find out where you have been spotted by these systems?
What other data mining can they do on anyone who they might even suspect or want to investigate in a criminal case? Can this information be subpoenaed in civil cases? If you are being sued for divorce, can this information be used against you, to find if you were at a girlfriend’s house?
Finding stolen cars and locating fugitives is a legitimate and beneficial use of these systems, but as these systems evolve and spread, the civil liberties concerns with what amounts to massive government surveillance of all citizens has yet to be seriously addressed.