License plate readers come under fire from ACLU

Organization says there is lack of rules governing the use, retention of license plate data


“The fact is, license plate readers are a technology that benefits us all by helping to find criminals and save lives,” said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice “This technology helped capture the men responsible for the failed Times Square bombing. It also allows us to monitor access to sensitive facilities and private communities, and to enforce payment in parking garages.  License plate readers keep insurance rates and interest rates lower, by helping to recover vehicles that are stolen or in default on leases and loans.”

DelBianco compared the objections to license plate scanners to those that were once voiced about Caller-ID and cellphone cameras. Additionally, DelBianco said that private companies using license plate readers have helped solve crimes, recover property and even save lives.

“Vendors who use the technology responsibly have robust data security and privacy practices, and tightly control who can access the information,” DelBianco added. “Our laws shouldn’t discourage innovation in new technologies that have many benefits.  Let’s focus on doing everything we can to stop bad conduct - no matter what technology is involved.”

Retired Police Officer Frank Borelli, editor-in-chief of Officer.com, said that the use of automated enforcement technology aids police departments by enabling them to crack down on a variety of criminal infractions.  

“Not only do automated license plate readers (ALPR) passively seek and detect those with suspended, expired or revoked vehicle registrations, but through the use of connected databases and data mining, they can also use information attached to a vehicle’s registration to find those with open warrants, revoked/suspended licenses, etc.,” he said.  The ALPR has the potential to increase enforcement efficiency on the part of patrol officers.”

Borelli does believe that law enforcement agencies need to have sound polices in place about the use of plate readers, however, he says challenges will remain.

“Law enforcement agencies should control, through policy, what information is retained.  If a license plate is scanned, automatically checked, and no violation found, then the record of that contact should be erased. That way we’re not ‘tracking citizens’ via this automated system,” he added. “The challenge that presents is making a defense in court against an accusation of targeted or prejudicial enforcement.  If you can’t prove/show all those plates that were scanned and clear, then how do you prove you ever scanned anything other than those you took enforcement action against? Like everything else, anytime information is collected, there has to be proper policy in place and enforced to protect the rights and privacy of the citizens.”