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Raleigh police license plate readers spark privacy concerns

Posted March 30, 2010
Updated March 31, 2010

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— Raleigh police are investing in more technology to make crime fighting faster and easier. They now have Automated License Plate Reader technology, which helps spot stolen and wanted vehicles, but there are privacy questions surrounding it.

Four cameras on top of police cruisers automatically scan license plates as officers patrol the streets, and the numbers run through a national criminal database.

If there's a match, an alarm will sound. Raleigh police say the technology has helped them find several stolen cars and missing people.

Police license plate readers spark concerns Police license plate readers spark concerns

“With this technology, it can read hundreds of plates in a couple of seconds if there are that many plates for it to see,” said Officer John Maultsby.

Maultsby drove through a North Carolina State University parking lot Tuesday to show a WRAL News crew how the license plate readers work. Not everyone was happy to hear that the license plates are captured and saved in the system's memory.

“It’s just privacy. Even though I am not doing anything wrong, and I don’t have anything to hide, I still don’t want people to know where I am at any given time,” said N.C. State student Ian Kilgore.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina sent a letter to Raleigh police voicing concerns about the new technology.

The group also filed a public records request to see a copy of the police department's policy regarding the license plate readers, but said no documents have been provided.

“If an officer does not get a hit when scanning a plate, then there is no legitimate reason for law enforcement to keep it on file for any length of time,” said Jennifer Rudinger with the ACLU of N.C.

State ACLU leaders said they started looking in to the technology after New Hanover County installed similar cameras at an overpass heading to the beach.

Opinions differ on whether it is an invasion of privacy.

“I don’t see it like that, because I think the policeman is deployed here to keep us safer,” said N.C. State student Haddish Reahegn.

A police spokesman said the license plate information will be stored and used in a legal manner. Five cruisers have been equipped so far, with a price tag of $18,000 to $20,000 a piece.

Federal grants paid for the technology. The Governor’s Highway Safety Program and the Governor’s Crime Commission approved the grants, according to Raleigh police.

124 Comments

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  • dugmeister Apr 6, 3:46 p.m.

    genie - pay attention son. I was replying to the comment if you 'ain't doing anyting wrong'. which is a RIDICULOUS thing to say. I wasn't saying I was FOR or AGAINST this policy. please pay attention.

  • smalldogsrule Mar 31, 7:56 p.m.

    All of your plate information is ALREADY stored in a database. It's called the DMV (who own the plates incidentally) The scanner just makes the job of running all those plates a little bit easier.

  • bezimmerman Mar 31, 6:36 p.m.

    Your vehicle is out in "public", whether it is driven on a street, parked along the street or parked in a store parking lot. The police already have access to registered vehicle data bases and are able to routinely run license plate checks, if the need arises.

    Just because you're afraid of being caught for something (even as minor as expired tags/lapsed insurance)doesn't automatically make it an "invasion of privacy" issue. Most everyone wants the police to keep them safe- myself included. But, some out there will always cry foul when LEO's try to be proactive and take new steps to enforce the law. Unfortunately, they're also the first in line to complain when they feel the police didn't do enough to stop the drunk driver/no insurance/no registration/unlicensed driver who ran into them.

  • RPD07 Mar 31, 6:22 p.m.

    Oh, and I forgot... with that registered owners name, I can check to see if they have warrants so there is quite a bit of information I can gather from just a license plate. Plus all the other databases and internet I can use at my disposal to dive deeper.....

    Now where is that tin foil hat, I hear that black helicopter flying around....

  • RPD07 Mar 31, 6:20 p.m.

    RKBA

    I drivers license IS in some way associated with a car. The car has a registered owner, and that persons license number is displayed. I can then check the registered owners license status....

    So, in some way yes, a drivers license is associated with a car.....

  • RKBA Mar 31, 5:13 p.m.

    "Hopefully they can cross reference the plates to see if 1 the driver has a DL "

    A drivers license is in no way associated with a car.

  • RKBA Mar 31, 5:13 p.m.

    "Your car is out there and visible to anyone and everyone that cares to look!!"

    Doh.

    They're not looking at your car, they're looking at information about you associated with your plates.

    So, for example....they can start by looking at stolen cars.

    Then, perhaps if you have an outstanding warrant.

    Maybe you haven't filed your taxes?

    Perhaps you filed a complaint against an officer, or the PD?

    You sure you think that being able to search for you via your plates is a grand idea?

  • Vietnam Vet Mar 31, 3:20 p.m.

    How is this invading your privacy?? So what if their system notes that your car is parked on such and such street at such and such time. Your car is out there and visible to anyone and everyone that cares to look!! How is your public parking private??

  • countrycop27869 Mar 31, 3:14 p.m.

    Ive read a few articles about this technology. They dont work like most people think they do. At the beginning of the shift a database is downloaded of all license plates that are stolen or wanted. During the shift the database is automatically checked by the reader. If a tagged plate is located, it alerts the Officer. It doesnt record every plate it reads.

  • RKBA Mar 31, 2:49 p.m.

    "Driving and/or operating a motor vehicle in the state of North Carolina is a privilege not a right"

    Which of course has nothing to do with harvesting data.

    But then again, as long as government couches violations of personal privacy as "needed to find stolen cars" or "to keep drugs off the street" it's supposed to be ok.

    The state does this too of course, with it's "Gambling, Liquor and Cigarettes for Children" taxation system.

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