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

Video British Fighters On Frontline of ISIS Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Multimedia Hit Song Delivers Ebola Message in Liberia

'Ebola in Town' has danceable beat, while also delivering serious message about avoiding infection More

Video New Technology Gives Surgeons Unprecedented Views of Patients’ Bodies

Technology offers real-time, interactive, medical visualization and is multi-dimensional More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid