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Cops: Leave Our License Plate Readers Alone!

The total number of records retained by Vigilant, the most prominent manufacturer of ALPRs, totals in the billions.
Cops: Leave Our License Plate Readers Alone!
Image from: John C Abell

If there's one thing I really hate since 9/11 (besides taking my shoes off in the airport), it's how easily the American public was groomed into accepting mass surveillance and data collection as ... perfectly normal. Via Techdirt:

Poor dears. A bunch of law enforcement associations are worried that they won't be able to keep all that sweet, sweet ALPR (automatic license plate reader) data for as long as they want to. In fact, they're so worried, they've issued a letter in response to a nonexistent legislative threat.

Despite the fact that no federal license plate legislation has been proposed, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has sent a pre-emptive letter to top Congressional lawmakers, warning them against any future restrictions of automated license plate readers. The IACP claims to be the "world's oldest and largest association of law enforcement executives."

The letter is stained with the tears of law enforcement entities whose thirst for bulk collections is only rivaled by national security agencies.

We are deeply concerned about efforts to portray automated license plate recognition (ALPR) technology as a national real-time tracking capability for law enforcement. The fact is that this technology and the data it generates is not used to track people in real time. ALPR is used every day to generate investigative leads that help law enforcement solve murders, rapes, and serial property crimes, recover abducted children, detect drug and human trafficking rings, find stolen vehicles, apprehend violent criminal alien fugitives, and support terrorism investigations.

The "efforts to portray" ALPRs as ad hoc tracking devices aren't limited to imaginative conspiracy theorists. Millions of plate scans are added to private companies' databases every day. The total number of records retained by Vigilant, the most prominent manufacturer of ALPRs, totals in the billions. That amount of data can easily be used to track nearly anyone's day-to-day movements. And the database is accessible by law enforcement agencies around the nation. There's no geofencing keeping the data compartmentalized to what's "relevant" to local agencies.

As for the rest of the paragraph, those claims have yet to be backed up by arrest statistics. The amount of plate data collected far outweighs the results.


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There is a misconception of continuous government tracking of individuals using ALPR information. This has led to attempts to curtail law enforcement’s use of the technology without a proper and fair effort to truly understand the anonymous nature of the data, how it is used, and how it is protected.

Note how the "misconception" is nothing privacy advocates are actually saying. No one's mistaking plate scans for a GPS tracking device. They've just noted that the end result is nearly identical. Gather enough data and you don't need a more "intrusive" method.

We are seeing harmful proposals – appropriations amendments and legislation – to restrict or completely ban law enforcement’s use of ALPR technology and data without any effort to truly understand the issue. Yet, any review would make clear that the value of this technology is beyond question, and that protections against mis-use of the data by law enforcement are already in place. That is one of the reasons why critics are hard-pressed to identify any actual instances of mis-use.

Translation: no one understands this high-tech device but us cops.

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