Who's Tracking Your License Plate?
Over the last decade, cities have increasingly embraced the crime-fighting potential of automated license plate reader (ALPR) technology. These camera systems are now ubiquitous at malls andtrain stations; they appear on street signs and perch on the dashboards of police cars. ALPRs can snap up thousands of geotagged photos per minute, and can help construct anincredibly detailed picture of a driver’s whereabouts over time.
For law enforcement, ALPR represents a powerful tool that can track suspects in real time. Let’s say the police are pursuing a robber fleeing in a vehicle. They can add the suspect’s license plate to a “hot list” and receive alerts whenever an ALPR camera in their city snaps a picture of it. Using what’s essentially a real-time map, the police can track and intercept the suspect.
But critics of the technology—including civil liberties and privacy groups—argue that license readers gather too much sensitive information about people who have nothing to do with crime, and it’s not always clear with whom it is being shared and to what end.
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