Mark M. is a lawyer in Kansas City. He was driving home from a doctor’s appointment when his car was suddenly blocked front and back by police.
According to Mark, one of the police officers approached his car with his gun drawn.
Mark said, “He did not point it at me, but it was definitely out of the holster. I am guessing that he saw the shock and horror on my face, and realized that I was unlikely to make a scene.”
The police officers informed Mark that one of their license plate readers misread a “7” on his license plate for a “2.”
The reader used the incorrect number to notify officers that the vehicle was stolen.
According to police, one of the officers got a hit on the license plate blocks before they made the traffic stop.
The officers initiated a traffic stop based on the hit from the license plate reader. They did not do a records check before making the traffic stop.
License plate readers can read about 60 plates per second. They can match the read plates with a list of wanted vehicles, stolen cars, or people suspected of crimes.
There are tens of thousands of license plate readers being used in the U.S., and it’s one form of surveillance that many people don’t even notice is happening.
But the data collected from license plate readers can be kept for weeks or indefinitely.
And with this massive amount of data, there are bound to be misreads or wrong matches.
Considering this, here are a few things about license plate readers that you should keep in mind.
Who is policing the police?:
License plate reader technology is used all over the U.S., yet few laws govern how the technology is used and how the data is stored.
License plate readers are another tool for mass surveillance.
The government requires vehicles to have license plates, and they now use it as a way to track people.
While they can serve a law enforcement purpose, there are millions of records stored about innocent people.
But drivers don’t have a choice here. License plates are public records.
What places do you visit:
License plate readers can create a record of everywhere you have driven.
So, if you are visiting a place that you don’t want anyone to know about then don’t go, because someone will be tracking where you are.
The readers can be used to target people who visit places such as protests or gun shops.
The data collected can lead to a huge invasion of privacy.
License plate readers are one of many tools used by law enforcement to track down people who were in Washington, D.C. on January 6th.
Next time you go to the doctor or a political event, there will likely be a police record of your plate being in the area.
Most license plate reader technology is created by private companies.
One company, Vigilant Solutions, has a database of 450 million plate scans. The company adds about 35 million new plates per month.
Not only is the government accessing the data, but the data is being held by a private company.
What if the company was hacked or misused the data?
Moreover, these private companies could share the information with organizations other than the police.
They could share it with private investigators or anyone willing to pay for the data.
There is a lack of regulations and privacy protections to keep the data secure.
One of the core principles of our country is that the government doesn’t invade people’s privacy.
But without regulations in place who knows who is accessing your data and where you have driven?