In an ever changing, fast paced world of electronics new technology becomes available all the time. A recent topic raised at a City Council Meeting in Blue Ridge, GA made us look a little closer at one device used by police officers.
Item # 14 on the agenda listed a highway safety project presented by Johnny Scearce (Chief of Police Blue Ridge, GA), Larry Bennett (Chief of Police McCaysville, GA) Ron Scherer, and Scott Kiker (Probate Judge – Fannin County, GA). However Police Chief Scearce brought up another subject not listed on the agenda- license plate scanners. Scearce explained how the device was installed on a “test” basis before an actual purchase or lease. Listen to Scearce explain the results of using the license plate scanner below:
Most motorists would not notice the surveillance technology, designed to capture the license plates of every passing vehicle. License Plate Readers, mounted on police cars, use small, high-speed cameras to photograph thousands of plates per minute. The description given by Scearce during the verbal presentation at the November 3rd Blue City Council meeting told us the database was a “private company” and the information was cross referenced with the NCIC (The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) is the United States’ central database for tracking crime-related information. The NCIC has been an information sharing tool since 1967.)
This topic caught our attention because we, like most Americans, wonder where this type of technology is going too far. Scearce seemed pleased with the results, noting the increase in revenue and court cases as well. But should a police force be focused on revenue and court cases? Would the invasive practice impact tourism? Is it too much in a world with too much “Big Brother” as it is. It also raised the questions of how is the data stored? How long is the data stored and who has access to it? Will these private company databases being installed and used in police cruisers result in lawsuits based on citizens rights being violated? All good questions so we did a little research.
Here is an excerpt from an article on the ACLU website:
The documents paint a startling picture of a technology deployed with too few rules that is becoming a tool for mass routine location tracking and surveillance. License plate readers can serve a legitimate law enforcement purpose when they alert police to the location of a car associated with a criminal investigation. But such instances account for a tiny fraction of license plate scans, and too many police departments are storing millions of records about innocent drivers. Moreover, private companies are also using license plate readers and sharing the information they collect with police with little or no oversight or privacy protections. A lack of regulation means that policies governing how long our location data is kept vary widely. (read entire article Are You Being Tracked – ACLU)
The other article related to the License Plate Readers from the ACLU website can be read here: License Plate Readers – Taking Photos Too?
Most of the research indicated the majority of devices were government devices but some are private. The real concern for us at FetchYourNews.com is where does it stop? Look at this excerpt from a situation involving license plate readers in our neighbor state of Florida: This story is by Illegal to Back into Your Driveway (used with permission)Wed, Jun 24, 2015 @ 8:35 pm and published on Jacksonville.com (see link)
Backing into your own driveway could cost you under proposed bill before Jacksonville Council
For those who prefer to back vehicles into their driveways, a proposal pending before City Council would make it illegal to park their cars that way unless their license plate information is clearly visible from the street.
The proposed bill is aimed at cracking down on the visual blight that occurs when vehicle owners store cars that don’t work on their property.
Proponents say it’s needed because city code enforcement inspectors face problems cracking down on abandoned vehicles because they need to get the license plate information in order to write a citation. If they cannot see the tags from the street because the car is backed in, they cannot go onto private property to get a closer look at the front of the vehicle.
The bill filed by City Councilman Warren Jones says that if a vehicle’s tag isn’t visible from the street, the owner must write down that information with 2-inch tall letters and post it in a location that inspectors can easily see from the street.
The bill also says that if an owner puts a cover over the vehicle, the license tag must either be visible or the tag information must be posted.
FYN supports all law enforcement and with that being said we also support the rights of all citizens. Law enforcement should have tools to do its job but how far is too far? FetchYourNews also interviewed police officers from neighboring areas to ask for their perspective. Three independent inquiries we made to individuals in the law enforcement field resulting in a resounding no. The procedure for calling in tags requires a reason or “probable cause” and if using the license plate scanner there is no probable cause. The other concern would be availability of private information – the information stored by NCIC is protected but who protects information with a private company? Just too much of a slippery slope.