30
Jul
07

Automated plate readers: A violation of civil rights?

The Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Springdale, OH Police department has the local ACLUs panties in a twist over the use of plate scanners on police cruisers:

The Mobile Plate Hunter 900 – two cameras mounted atop a cruiser – can read up to 900 license plates an hour on vehicles driving at highway speeds. …

… “It’s unreal,” Springdale Police Chief Mike Laage said. “It’s the best technology out there.”

The State Highway Patrol has been using the plate hunter in six spots along the Ohio Turnpike, but Springdale police are the first to use it on regular patrols.

Since the patrol began using the scanners in 2004, it has recovered 95 stolen cars – valued at $740,000 – and made 111 arrests, said patrol spokesman Lt. Shawn Davis. The plate hunter has made roads safer, he said. …

… The scanner’s gaze is too wide and it’s an infringement against the innocent drivers whose plates get captured, said Jeff Gamso, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

Using the plate hunter to scan all license plates is a civil rights violation and could lead to government abuse of the information, Gamso said.

I think they should just knock it off,” Gamso said. “Is the marginal benefit likely outweighing the danger of increased surveillance of everything we do?”

Laage finds nothing wrong with casting the wide net. – [WBNS10TV/AP]

Well I have to admit that I am on the fence on this. This system has many advantages. It is indiscriminate, and does not profile anyone based on color, creed, etc., like a regular police officer could. It is also noninvasive, i.e. traffic stop is not required to do spot checks etc. and it does it’s job while on public roads, where there should be no reasonable expectation of privacy.

But while I can clearly see the advantages of this system, as a law enforcement tool, like any tool, it can be abused. There does not seem to be much difference between this and the covert surveillance of American citizens by government agencies without probable cause or due process.

I’m sure many will agree that we don’t want an America where our every move is observed, logged and recorded by government agencies, and our every action subject to the interpretation of a paranoid. Technologies like this always seem to take us closer, one step at a time, to that scenario…

Plate reader draws objections of ACLU – [WBNS10TV/AP]

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