News / Science & Technology

License Plate Readers Spur Privacy Concerns

License Plate Readers Spur Privacy Concernsi
X
July 31, 2013 8:34 PM
Privacy advocates, already reeling from leaks on the government's surveillance of private citizens, have found another concern. Law enforcement agencies across the U.S. are using powerful camera technology to scan license plates and build databases on the movements of millions of Americans. Jeff Swicord reports from Arlington, Virginia, a suburb of Washington D.C.
TEXT SIZE - +
Jeff Swicord
— Privacy advocates, already reeling from leaks on the government's surveillance of private citizens, have found another concern.  Law enforcement agencies across the U.S. are using powerful camera technology to scan license plates and build databases on the movements of millions of Americans.

Arlington County Police Detective Mohammed Tabibi is with the auto theft unit.  He uses license plate readers, or LPR’s, mounted on the hood of his car, to look for stolen vehicles.

“It has paid dividends.  We have caught some people involved in some serious crimes because of LPR.  And I know it has helped out a lot of agencies in the area as well," said Tabibi.

The use of LPRs is growing across the United States.  Some are mounted on poles, others on cars, and privacy groups are concerned.  They say the information is being stored on computer servers and shared with other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.  

“What they are also doing is storing everybody’s time, place, and location," said Jay Stanley, who is with the American Civil Liberties Union. "And many police departments are holding that information indefinitely.  You know in our society, the government doesn’t follow you and invade your privacy and track you unless it has a specific reason that you are involved in wrongdoing."

Arlington Police Captain Kevin Rearden heads the Homeland Security division.  He says LPR information is kept for six months.  But other law enforcement agencies, with access to their server, may store it indefinitely.

“We originally had a two-month period, and the detectives requested the chief extend it to six months because they found in so many investigations, keeping it for two months wasn’t long enough," said Rearden.

Privacy advocates say they have no problem with police departments scanning license plates to investigate crimes. But they're opposed to storing information for long periods of time.

“...Once you are past a certain amount of time, it is very unlikely it is going to be useful. Meanwhile we are creating this giant infrastructure for tracking people," said Stanley. “They keep bringing up the tracking word. And if I went out and ran your tag in our server, I would not be able to track you.  I would be lucky if I could put [you in] a few places in Arlington in a particular time.  By no stretch of the imagination would I be able to track you,"

But the ACLU says Americans need to know more about LPR technology.  

It has filed suit in federal court against the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to see how federal officials are using the LPR information they acquire.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid