10/23/14 License Plate Readers

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License plate readers have proven to be effective in locating stolen vehicles, targeting cars on “hot lists” for open warrants, and identifying unpaid traffic or parking violations.

In much rarer instances, license plate readers have assisted in apprehending those sought in felony cases.

But there are concerns over privacy rights.

How long is data stored? And with whom is it shared?  What safeguards are in place to prevent abuse?

Some police departments don’t have any protocols regarding data collected.

The fact of the matter is only a tiny fraction of license plates read even “hit” on a target list.  In some jurisdictions, it’s less than 1/100th of one percent.  That’s one in ten thousand.  Yet, some departments retain data collected on the other 9,999 innocent vehicle owners.

For example, some jurisdictions in Texas and California save the data  forever.  In contrast, the Ohio State Highway Patrol mandates all innocent license plates be immediately deleted.

It’s the retention of innocent data that invites abuse

Suppose a mayor, governor or president is annoyed by a peaceful gathering that criticizes the chief executive’s policies.  License plates collected on nearby parked cars to identify who participated in the protest would chill constitutional rights to peacefully assemble.  And to engage in free speech.

It’s for these reasons that stringent policies should be adopted in order to prevent the wholesale collection and retention of data on innocent vehicle owners.

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