It’s been over a year since the Fountain Valley City Council approved the use of funding and the implementation of License Plate Scanning cameras on their police cruisers per this FV Patch article of February 12, 2012: City Council Approves Use of License Plate Technology.
As these things happen, since the Police Department got their way (and free stuff), nothing’s since been heard from them related to their value and use — have they succeeded? At what?
Per the Patch link, the decision to accept
Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) units through a federal grant from the Urban Area Security Initiative obtained by the Anaheim Police Department. The Anaheim department will be purchasing 50 of these units from a private company, which they are offering to every city in Orange County…
was not without controversy. Mayor Mark McCurdy opposed the deal, saying “he was troubled about the infringement of Fourth Amendment rights and how often the data could be regulated by the police department.” Of course, he was right to do that as these scanners capture license plate numbers that the police cruiser passes by (or presumably passes by it). It would then match them in real time, we’d imagine, to a list of BOLO (be on the lookout for…) numbers, and we assume if nothing is found, still drops the plate number into a database which would include the time, date and location of the scan for later research. The data is to be kept for only two years.
Per FEMA’s website, the $490 million Urban Areas Security Initiative “funds address the unique planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercise needs of high-threat, high-density urban areas, and assists them in building an enhanced and sustainable capacity to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism”. Scanning license plates for stolen cars seems a bit of a stretch under the wide umbrella of terrorism, and it would be appropriate to know just how productive this technology has been. How many stolen vehicles have been found? Were the thieves caught? Have any missing persons been found? Has anyone with outstanding warrants been apprehended? All these were said to be advantages of this technology.
Since the Feds, from whom this technological blessing is received — and particularly the IRS and NSA — have been fingered this year as being especially intrusive in matters of domestic surveillance and generally sticking their noses in our private business, it’s appropriate that Mayor McCurdy and his Council have a report from their Police Department with some statistics on how effective (0r not) these car-top peepers have been.
As well, we were intrigued with Fox News’ Judge Napolitano’s take on the license plate scanner/cameras. Any city using them ought to have a look at the You Tube video above from this afternoon. The exceptions this technology enjoys, compared to the warrants that are required to follow citizens via GPS or tracking their cell phones, are especially interesting.
In this morning’s deadwood edition of the Register was this WaPo/AP story: License-plate cameras track millions of Americans (this copy from the Seattle Times as it can’t be found even behind the Reg’s paywall). While we believe, and wish to see proven as said above, that these Scanners might provide some immediate value in possibly identifying a recently stolen car or kidnap, the difficulty we should have with them is the data that they collect is stored and available for later (legal?) searches to see where and when a particular license plate might have been seen by the camera (which needn’t be mounted on a vehicle — for example, similar to Red Light cameras used in certain cities like Santa Ana). We would have also liked the Register to have done it’s own work on this issue and identify the other OC cities that are currently using this technology. From the story:
But the systems collect records on every license plate they encounter — whether or not they are on hot lists — meaning time and location data are gathered in databases that can be searched by police. Some departments purge information after a few weeks, some after a few months and some never, said the report, which warns that such data could be abused by authorities and chill freedom of speech and association. Attached to police cars, bridges or buildings — and sometimes merely as an app on an officer’s smartphone — scanners capture images of passing or parked vehicles and pinpoint their locations, uploading that information into police databases. Over time, it’s unlikely many vehicles in a covered area escape notice. And with some of the information going into regional databases encompassing multiple jurisdictions, it’s becoming easier to build a record of where someone has been and when, over a large area.
Here’s a link to the ACLU’s report on their website: Police Documents on License Plate Scanners Reveal Mass Tracking. And here’s the text of the Fourth Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Here’s a link to the ACLU’s PowerPoint on the topic — like them or not, this is analysis that they’ve always been good at: