Here’s a good article in the Dayton Daily News that takes a serious look at the privacy and civil liberties implications of the increasingly widespread use of automatic license plate reader technology in Ohio.
These systems automatically scan and log the license plate of any car within visual range of the police cruiser. They can even scan the plates of cars on the other side of the road at highway speeds. The plate numbers are matched with databases that identify any car that is flagged as stolen or wanted in connection with a criminal investigation. They can also match the plate with the registered owner, and whether he or she may have an expired or suspended drivers license, be sought on a criminal warrant, or any other reason a person might be flagged in a law enforcement or government database.
As soon as any car or driver is flagged with a known issue, the police officer inside the vehicle in instantly alerted to the status of the vehicle nearby. He can stop the driver, identify and clear the issue, or arrest the person if the situation warrants it.
Naturally, these are very popular with most police departments. They are a real time saver, and can work on a scale that an officer manually typing plate numbers into a computer could never do.
Are Police Scanning and Monitoring Your Every Move?
The police chief of Dayton announced that the police department is getting five of these license plate scanning systems, partially financed by the US Dept of Homeland Security.Also acquiring these systems soon is the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.
The Ohio Highway Patrol and the Cincinnati police has been using these systems for some time. And we noted last year when these systems were deployed by law enforcement agencies in Butler County and Toledo.
The bottom line is that these systems are everywhere, and are on their way to becoming standard equipment on police cruisers nationwide. If you happen to have a suspended license (even one you don’t know about) or an outstanding warrant for your arrest, it is increasingly and highly likely that you will be stopped just out driving your car.
Most people think that these are legitimate uses for these scanning systems. But the fact is, in addition to every person legitimately sought by the police, thousands of license plates of ordinary citizens suspected of doing nothing wrong are tagged, stored and dated by location with GPS technology.
Gary Daniels of the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union is very concerned about the obvious potential abuses for this kind of information. There are serious questions about how much of this data is stored, and who has access to it for what purpose.
Data storage is incredibly cheap, and it is extremely plausible for the government to save all of this data indefinitely and share it with law enforcement agencies and federal government security officials nationwide. With this kind of information, the data can be mined to find past locations of anyone snagged in the system. They can track groups of people who appear at the same locations at the same events, and draw any number of connections between people who are accused of no crime.
Our legislators need to carefully consider new laws that catch up to this passive government surveillance that is already happening, and protect the average citizens basic right to privacy.