(RT) – A little-noticed surveillance technology equips police vehicles with infrared cameras that can record car license plate numbers then log the data for tracking outstanding warrants, suspended licenses and stolen vehicles.
However, the latest crime-fighting tool comes with little-to-no
regulation for invasion of privacy.
To give an idea of the power of the technology, called the Data
Driver Approach to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTs), within the
space of two months Denver police vacuumed up 835,000 license
plate images leading to 17,000 hits for warrants, stolen vehicles
and other things law enforcement searched for.
The license plate readers are three high-resolution digital
cameras mounted on a police vehicle for all-round surveillance.
The cameras capture license plate images, including information
such as date, time and location, and feed them to a laptop with
GPS within the vehicle. Using data that is updated every four
hours from federal, state and local databases, police can match
the plate numbers for wanted vehicles, fugitive warrants,
suspended or revoked drivers’ license and stolen cars.
In a typical use of the technology, a police car will cruise an
area of major gang activity or major crime night and day, and
record any and every vehicle within the proximity. Detective and
field officers are also using the data to identify potential
witnesses and suspects for later investigations. Police officials
say they also use the data for predicting high traffic-areas that
may need special attention and enforcement.
The Denver Police Departmen has become a big advocate of DDACT,
which costs $11,000 for each vehicle,
according to Forbes. Under Police Commander Paul Pazen, more
than 100 officers have been trained on how to the use the
technology. The DPD stores the information for 364 day before it
is permanently purged.
Other cities like Los Angeles have used the license plate readers
for several years, but police officials say adding in links to
crime databases increases their effectiveness as drivers are
notified when they or their car is wanted.
Privacy advocates like the American Civil liberties Union,
though, have been concerned about license plate readers for over
three years. In 2012, it sent public records act requests to
almost 600 local and state police departments in 38 states and
Washington, DC, to find out how the agencies are using the
The group received 26,000 pages of documents in response and
realized the readers have the potential to create permanent
records of virtually everywhere a person has driven. The ACLU
said that the use of this technology is an invasion of privacy as
it can reveal what friends, doctors, protests, political events
or churches a person might visit.
Denver Police Commander Pazen
told Forbes that concerns about police targeting people is
unfounded, since the camera log is so random.
Still, state lawmakers are starting to take action on the license
plate readers. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal vetoed legislation
that would have permitted law enforcement to use the technology
to catch stolen vehicles and uninsured drivers.
Gov. Jindal said his decision was due to concerns about the
public’s privacy, as such programs “create large pools of
information belonging to law abiding citizens that unfortunately
can be extremely vulnerable to theft or misuse.”
Other states are passing bills setting limits on how long the
data can be retained. Arkansas sets theirs at 150 days, and
Minnesota just passed a law that allows law enforcement to hold
the data for 60 days unless it is relevant to a crime, with
regular audits conducted at law enforcement agencies to ensure
that the law is being enforced.
This piece was reprinted by RINF Alternative News with permission or license.