General Question

KNOWITALL's avatar

Do you think LPR (License Plate Readers) benefits outweigh privacy concerns?

Asked by KNOWITALL (18876points) January 19th, 2018

Many police departments are using License Plate Readers, which are stationary camera’s, mounted in strategic areas or on law enforcement vehicles.

They would notify officers of active warrants, Amber Alerts, Silver Alerts, stolen vehicles and have been proven to help police apprehend criminals they otherwise may have just passed on the road. They appear to be helping apprehend criminals even more in relation to major Interstates and drug/ human-trafficking corridors.

Detractors say that the data collection and storage and usage is a violation of their privacy and could be misused.

There are multiple cases filed across the US, but it looks like the LPR’s will be authorized in most cases.

Here are a few links for your information:

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53 Answers

Rarebear's avatar

Actually, I’m a fan. I have FastTrack but we only have one doohicky for three cars. We have to remember to move the doohicky from car to car if we’re going to cross a bridge. But I found out I actually don’t need to do that. Our license plate is in the database so I just cross the bridge without the doohicky. It checks the license plate and automatically deducts from my FastTrack account.

canidmajor's avatar

The LPD technology merely speeds up and already existing display (the plate itself), so no, it doesn’t bother me. My car is registered, it has a plate in full view, cameras have been used to track traffic for decades, this is just an enhancement of all of that.

KNOWITALL's avatar

So neither of you have a problem with ‘losing your privacy’ in order to use this technology? And no fears about your ‘personal information’ being ‘out there’? How do your area’s store the data, or what time frame is is deleted, if you know.

I also heard something about license plate covers that can fool the camera’s, any info on whether that’s true or not?

janbb's avatar

A friend of mine was pulled over in a town near hers because she had delinquent parking tickets in her town. Her car was impounded on the spot and she was on the way to taking her daughter to the train.

I wouldn’t argue at all that she should have paid her parking tickets but the punishment seemed far above what the “crime” warranted. She was not doing anything wrong at the time but the LPD certainly was what got her caught. It was a major hassle getting her car backand she had a court appearance required in the new town.

elbanditoroso's avatar

The LPD itself isn’t a bad thing. I’m in favor of that being used for a particular infraction at a particular time.

What bothers me is that the police save the tracking history indefinitely. That’s the spooky part.

They could run a report and tell me what direction I was driving four months ago at 5:00am. And where I went from there and so on. If history wasn’t a part of it, I would have no problem at all.


KNOWITALL's avatar

@elbanditoroso Well that is not the general rule, I’ve heard 14 day data purges, too. I think it’s still being fought in various courts, but it may be up to the individual depts right now in all probability. Have you checked with PD or your city council on getting that limited?

@janbb See that’s the rub, LPR’s don’t discriminate when they flag BUT the officer has the option of checking for felony warrants or non-felony, they still have to verify the legitimacy even if a plate is flagged. So sounds to me like the officer made the call, not the LPR.
Was she a criminal, well that doesn’t seem to be the case, but she also didn’t pay her tickets so that made her fair game, so yes she should have taken care of it and can’t blame anyone but herself imo.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It doesn’t bother me at all. This is the result of almost 6 decades of living as a white person in a country where I don’t have to worry about being arrested for absolutely nothing at all.
I would only view it as a problem if we actually wound up living under an insane dictator…..oh. wait…

Dutchess_III's avatar

You know, if it saves one child who is up on an Amber Alert, I’m all for it.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Dutchess_III And that’s where I’m at, too. Especially with human trafficking being such a major problem right now.

Government overreach is a major obstacle to tech like this though, which I have to at least do major research on.

canidmajor's avatar

@KNOWITALL, I don’t feel like I’m “losing” my privacy, because I don’t feel I had privacy in my registered and marked (by the plate, and in databases by that number, the VIN, and the make and model) vehicle.
Like I said, this tech has enhanced the tracking of my vehicle, it hasn’t created it. I think @janbb‘s friend’s experience was unfortunate and grossly inconvenient, but an over reaction to the tech, not a fault of the tech itself. Any cop could have accessed that information from his cruiser and done the same thing.

Kardamom's avatar

Everyone who is not visually impaired can see the plates, so there is no invasion of privacy.

Getting information more quickly, for law enforcement is a good thing. They’re doing their job, more easily, and more quickly.

So what if they save the information?

zenvelo's avatar

There is a wealthy town just north of San Francisco with only two roads in and out of town. They installed LPRs’ on both roads in both directions, and track all vehicles in and out of town. They continually check against the state database of all vehicles registered in the town and monitor all visitors.

The police will follow anyone visiting the town after ten o’clock at night. They are known to question any visitor getting out of their car.

Despite this being a popular tourist destination, and also where one catches the ferry to Angel Island State Park, they will come after you if you drive into their town with a warrant against your license plate.

They don’t want any riff-raff visiting.

As to my opinion, I find them a bit overreaching.

janbb's avatar

Doesn’t this seem very similar to stop and frisk to you all? I think if I were Black I’d be very concerned about this as @Dutchess_III alluded to.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think it’s just the newness of it. We almost instinctively don’t trust things we aren’t familiar with. Remember when answering machines came out? Everybody freaked out that burglars would take an unanswered call as a clue that someone wasn’t home. It was unfathomable at that time that a person wouldn’t answer the phone! But, of course, what really happened is, for the first time, people were screening their calls.
Then the same thing happened with caller ID in that same decade. “OMG! What I I don’t want the person I’m calling to have my number??” I was especially paranoid about that.
And I’d just bet that when it came to having to register cars and guns for the first time, the reaction was similar.
And there is always George Orwells 1984.

As long as you live in a healthy, well-functioning society, with a fair and just government, you are, most likely, safe.

Which is why Trump scares the hell out of me.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@canidmajor Correct, any officer can run the plates but manually they miss a lot, too, so your chances are better if your city doesn’t use this tool.

@Kardamom There are many people who don’t trust the police with all that information, nor a grid of all stops during the length of time they keep the records. They fear misuse by bad cops, which is not necessarily outlandish.

Think about this, an ex-husband files a public records request and gets all your locations on a daily basis, then stalks and kills that person. As you can see in a case above, selling to third parties is not allowed, but some judges may approve a public records request, it’s a legal thing and feared by some.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Here on NY the police will cruise through mall parking lots with their LPRs on. They ticket cars for inspection and registration violations. It is an easy money grab. I have a problem with the data.

janbb's avatar

I feel that my friend’s impounding was a money grab too even though I don’t dispute that she should have paid up. Especially since it was not even in her town.

stanleybmanly's avatar

That’s the REAL incentive, particularly for cash strapped smaller jurisdictions. The opportunities for revenue enhancement guarantee the rapid adoption of this technology.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@stanleybmanly Perhaps part of the equation, but not the main purpose.

stanleybmanly's avatar

How do you know? Of course no one would admit it. Just as the hundreds of speed trap towns in the country would never cop to the motivation for “vigilance”.

flutherother's avatar

I have some reservations about it and I think there should be limits on how the information is used and kept. For example do we want the government to keep track of who is driving to political gatherings and demonstrations?
On the other hand criminals might fool the system by using temporary plates.

Dutchess_III's avatar

For example do we want the government to keep track of who is driving to political gatherings and demonstrations? @flutherother having a stable, fair government is vital to everything.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@stanleybmanly Because I’m on city council in a small town that is cash strapped? lol

Darth_Algar's avatar

Anyone who has functioning eyes can read your plate number. And any officer who can see your plate can run it, so I’m not really sure where privacy fits in here.

funkdaddy's avatar

There are a lot of things that would help law enforcement catch more criminals. Automation has made a lot of them more convenient and practical.

If you’re ok with license plate readers, next steps along the same lines are facial recognition in public spaces, and stitching that all together to see where you’re likely to be at a given time. It’s essentially the same, and will be pushed from specialized cases on down to tiny town law enforcement shortly. We’ll have the same arguments.

The downside is if it’s the end of the month and the PD is a little short on payroll, I’m sure they can find someone who owes. They don’t even have to catch anyone doing anything wrong, just someone past due.

To me that’s not the role of government or law enforcement. But that’s where the technology leads. Once that data is there, everyone wants to use it for whatever the current need is. That’s human nature, we’re clever and solve problems.

I help state agencies collect data, and have to fight the same fight over and over. Someone wants to use data authorized to be collected for one reason to find someone for a reason never intended or authorized. Lately it’s been immigration information.

Keep in mind that historical data from license plate readers doesn’t actually help anyone catch a crime in progress. It only helps them track people down suspected of a crime. That may seem like a slight difference, but it’s important. There’s no point to keeping that data for the legitimate uses outlined. It can only be used for surveillance and so I don’t think it should ever be kept.

The technology also shouldn’t be used for general scanning and even short term storage. You don’t need to grab and store every plate to find Amber alerts or a specific vehicle used in a crime. Those are deliberately misleading examples of how the technology can be used. Grabbing every plate in a parking lot or that passes through town on public roads is again surveillance and shouldn’t be what government subsidizes.

Being in public doesn’t mean I want to pay to be watched and the case for a benefit to society seems pretty weak.

Dutchess_III's avatar

If someone robbed you and they caught the person through all that technology, you’d like it then.

funkdaddy's avatar

@Dutchess_III – Please run me through how you think they’ll catch someone who robbed me with license plate scanners, but wouldn’t have otherwise.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I said “Technology.” I didn’t specify license plate scanners. They caught the Boston Bombers with facial recognition technology.

CWOTUS's avatar

Even though I’m not, in general, a fan of even “auto registration” itself – on strictly libertarian grounds – I recognize that this is the world we live in, and yes, if we’re going to drive we drive in “registered” vehicles and we have driver’s licenses. So, that’s reality.

Given that reality, there is no “reasonable expectation of privacy” when traveling along public roadways, I cannot expect privacy while driving. We used to expect a certain amount of “anonymity”, and I believe that absent “manhunt for CWOTUS” (for example) that should and will still be the case. And given that we all want “reasonable and proper” law enforcement (and crime prevention, to the extent that we can achieve that without giving up all liberty), I’m not much opposed.

As for “what becomes of the data” questions, well, we’re all on the internet using various ISPs; most of us have cable TV subscriptions, and/or Netflix, Facebook and other social media accounts, etc. – that ship has sailed. Yes, the data will be collected, collated, sold and at times misused, and there should be penalties in place for that (probably not to be established until after many bad abuses and privacy breaches have already occurred, that that’s also current reality).

What’s really going to be interesting is when the fast reader combines with the existing “big data” of multiple states’ auto registration databases to flag mismatches between license plate and vehicle (stolen cars, for the most part, or stolen plates from “cold” cars), and then later matches facial recognition with the drivers’ licenses themselves. Ah, that’ll be a brave new world.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@KNOWITALL solid answer. Anyone else experiencing Twilight Zone behavior from our site?

funkdaddy's avatar

@Dutchess_III – Hmmm. I remember that differently. Maybe take another look or link a source?

A burglary suspect would still need to be arrested and I doubt they’re sending an officer after anyone on the highway who passes a camera. So I don’t know if that would contradict anything I said.

And a theoretical terrorist could be found by facial recognition without storing data on everyone who passes a camera.

Thammuz's avatar

Saving the tracking history is the issue, otherwise there is no such thing as privacy in a public space, which roads __definitely__ are.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@stanleybmanly lol, I’m actually running a RL scenario by you guys. I need more than a small rural town’s opinion sometimes.

What do you mean Twilight Zone behavior from the site?

@Thammuz Correct, the collection is not the issue, the storage and length of time is the issue.

Zaku's avatar

No, I think they’re an outrageous violation of privacy and the pursuit of happiness! Being tracked everywhere we go is disgusting to me, and I despise it.

I know people who have been pulled over the police with the excuse of false accusations of having driven unlawfully, and then questioned about where they have been spending the last few days, and when the detainee asked if they had to tell them that, they implied they’d be let go on their way if they did, and they did. The people in question had been spending days on private land outside their home state, and then driving on a minor highway in another state. This seems to indicate to me that the police (or Homeland Security or something) is targeting people who are just off their grid unexpectedly.

None of this sounds like the “Land of Liberty” I was told this was supposed to be. This is a land of batshit crazy levels of control-freak monitoring and recording and paranoia and abusive police power grabbing.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Zaku Now YOU sound like the people in my city.

So what argument could be used to change your mind? Does the safety of your child or grandmother (Amber/ Silver Alerts) cause you one pause- basically are safety concerns worth giving up your privacy?

stanleybmanly's avatar

@KNOWITALL my screen had duplicates of several of the answers above. But now they have vanished.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Are you talking about the Boston Bombers @funkdaddy not being what you remembered? I saw a documentary of it that showed how face recognition was used, along with other technology. When I went to find an article on it I found several reputable sites who say it DIDN’T help, so now, I don’t know.

They did use heat sensitive technology to find the one under the boat tarp, though.

Zaku's avatar

@KNOWITALL No, giving up privacy supposedly for safety concerns is exactly what I was referring to by “batshit crazy levels of control-freak monitoring and recording and paranoia”.

Especially when the subject is trying to track and record everyone everywhere at every time.

I have no doubt it adds some power to authorities. I don’t think it provides much safety, and it certainly is not necessary.

What argument could be used to change my mind? Tell me you’re going to first remove all the corrupt people from all levels of corporate and government power. Tell me you’re not going to record everyone’s movements even when there’s no reason to suspect anything. Prove to me this can’t be abused by corrupt people using the actual data for whatever purpose it might be useful, or falsifying the data and using it in court to win false judgements against enemies of people and organizations with the money/power to produce false evidence and false testimony from agents. Tell me there will be lots of wise due process applied before the network will be used. Tell me some very wise and competent researchers considered all other options and determined this was the best thing to do, and what data led to that conclusion. Prove to me you’re not creating terrorists who hate the control grab this represents. Show me that all of the laws that might be enforced (or insurance company profiles adjusted) with this are fair and just and democratically agreed upon, including shit like 25 MPH speed limits in perfectly safe unoccupied streets in broad daylight.

And then, after doing all of that, show me how I and other humans like me are not going to feel creepily watched and tracked, and feel like we have no privacy nor freedom of movement, when there are devices everywhere tracking us and recording our movements.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Okay it sounds like the answer for those “I am against LPR” is not to have license plates. *J.K.

They had a cruiser a few years ago cruise a mall parking lot during Christmas season for several days, they found:
1) several cars not registered in the state for the past 3 or more years.
2) A couple of stolen cars from other states.
3) One guy that had $3000 worth of past due parking tickets (he liked to park for free).

“Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.”

funkdaddy's avatar

Here you go guys, public records request of LPR data in the Oakland area.

We know where you’ve been: Ars acquires 4.6M license plate scans from the cops

The end of the article discusses larger databases available for Seattle and Minneapolis. If you want to find someone with their license plate, it’s out there for anyone.

It’s not like the fears are made up, they have been played out and proven.

Does anyone have a case, or numbers, where this information has prevented a crime or lead to someone being found or rescued? All I’ve seen so far are revenue generation for police departments and the companies that create and support the systems.

dabbler's avatar

If they were not retaining the data at all then to me there is no difference to officers reading the plates and looking them up.
Retained data on the other hand allow public and private parties to track your whereabouts over time when they had no real business to do that.
If things get more draconian than they are now, that kind of information is very dangerous to our freedoms.

janbb's avatar

@dabbler But I think it is the speed with which they can look up your records now. They don’t have to stop you for a suspected infraction; they can just read your license and get your record. To me that’s equivalent to a warrantless search.

CWOTUS's avatar

Mmm, no, @janbb. Looking up “wants and warrants” in public records is not at all the same as a warrantless search; it’s just a quicker way of doing what cops have been able to do (“administratively able”, anyway) since the founding of the republic. That is, if you have outstanding warrants the cops have always had the constitutionally legal capability to go to your home and arrest you. It’s just that with the cost of police operations, the sketchiness of some neighborhood and likely danger to the cops while arresting some people in their homes, especially for relatively minor offenses, and the increasing mobility of people in general (some people not having much in the way of a fixed abode, that is), that it’s seldom done for minor offenses.

A search, to me, implies stopping and actually searching the vehicle and person – which would probably be the effect of this, I agree – but not the public records search for the wants and warrants which prompts it.

dabbler's avatar

@CWOTUS this is only partly true “it’s just a quicker way of doing what cops have been able to do”
A lot of discussion above is about the situation of driving past the cop, who could look up your records anyway if he/she wants to.

The cops have previously NOT been able to track your location back over days, weeks, months, where they were not present. The automated cameras make unsupervised surveillance possible and the records kept make unprecedented tracking possible.

Zaku's avatar

Also see my first answer above, about the people getting pulled over because someone spent some days without their car being tracked outside their home state, which apparently got noticed and got some police curious enough to intercept and threaten to take people in for false traffic accusations unless they explained their untracked movements. And these are NOT suspicious or criminal people, just atypical.

So being atypical and not being tracked is cause for being detained and questioned?

rojo's avatar

Not a fan. Just one more step down the road to a fascist state.

flutherother's avatar

The next step is facial recognition. Your progress through a city will be tracked across multiple cameras showing where you go and who you meet. Should you become a person of interest your movements can even be checked back in time to establish where you were last week.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@flutherother – already being done by the TSA at some airports.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I recently received a ticket in the mail thanks to a license scanner. I have an 05 Buick that we can’t get the title for (long story.) We gave it to Rick’s daughter a few years back. Well her daughter ran through a toll booth using the Ktag lane….but she didn’t have a Ktag. The thing snapped a pic of her license plate, and since the car is still in my name, I got the ticket.
But Rick’s daughter took care of it the instant I let her know of it.

That’s all fine with me.

stanleybmanly's avatar

It’s only fine til she has a major accident or ANY serious incident involving YOUR car.

RocketGuy's avatar

A long time ago, I was late getting to the airport, so quickly parked and ran in. I didn’t realize that I misread the parking area sign. When I got back, my car was “no where to be found” (since I was searching in a completely different parking area). I was able to call Security, and their LPR system had the correct parking area associated with my car. So for me LPR was a convenience (and a security measure for the airport). I have also taken advantage of the FasTrak LPR, since we have 3 cars and 1 doohicky (just like @Rarebear).

I can see how the system can be used to track people, but our cell phones allow pretty good tracking too, so LPR is not much different.

zenvelo's avatar

Here is an example of how the data collection is more nefarious than most people imagine.

ICE checking vehicle locations.

funkdaddy's avatar

Source article at The Verge

Notice where they get that database, now being sold back to law enforcement.

While it collects few photos itself, Vigilant Solutions has amassed a database of more than 2 billion license plate photos by ingesting data from partners like vehicle repossession agencies and other private groups. Vigilant also partners with local law enforcement agencies, often collecting even more data from camera-equipped police cars. The result is a massive vehicle-tracking network generating as many as 100 million sightings per month, each tagged with a date, time, and GPS coordinates of the sighting.

And this quote which summarizes about how I feel:

“There are people circulating in our society who are undocumented,” says senior policy analyst Jay Stanley, who studies license plate readers with the ACLU. “Are we as a society, out of our desire to find those people, willing to let our government create an infrastructure that will track all of us?”

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