Local News

Raleigh police license plate readers spark privacy concerns

Posted March 30, 2010 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated March 31, 2010 11:10 a.m. EDT

— 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.

“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.