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.
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

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

UN Tackles Illicit Wildlife Poaching Amid Cecil the Lion Uproar

The 193-member General Assembly adopts its first resolution on the issue following a two-year campaign by Germany and Gabon More

Trump Tops Poll as Rivals Battle to Make Debate

Donald Trump jumps into a big lead in Republican presidential race, according to latest poll More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs