Automated license plate readers (ALPR) is a system of devices that are controlled by a computer that is attached to police cars. Automated license plate readers can be placed on other objects around town like streetlights, street poles, and overpasses. ALPRs read and catch the license plate numbers of every vehicle that rides pass the reader. The reader collects data. This data consists of the license plate number and sometimes the people inside of the vehicle. This data is processed and stored on a central server.
The purpose of these readers is to allow law enforcement the accurate Information to determine travel patterns, location of a vehicle, and to be used to determine if a vehicle had been at a crime scene. These readers gather precise Information like someone’s location and even the date and time of where a vehicle has been. In some cases these readers are helpful. However, some argue that these readers violate First Amendment rights. The technology in these readers can allow others to target people in certain vehicles based on their whereabouts. People who frequently visit religious places, gun shops, union halls, immigration clinics, and healthcare centers can be targeted. Automated license plate readers track and holds data about millions of people without them being aware of it.
Stationary automated license plate readers are attached to fixtures and are stationary. A reader that is attached to a telephone pole or traffic light is an example of a stationary automated license plate reader. Stationary readers typically only catch information from vehicles when they are in motion. If multiple stationary ALPRs are in a certain location, these readers will collect enough information to assume a particular driver of a vehicle either lives or works in this particular area. Sometimes these stationary readers are moved. Sometimes the ALPR is placed on a truck or van and the truck or van is moved to a certain location like a political event.
Mobile automated license plate readers are more frequently going to be attached to a police patrol car. These mobile cameras are turned on and off upon an officer starting and ending their shift. Sometimes third-party companies collect this type of data from license plates and then sell this information to law enforcement agencies.
The data that is collected from license plates are stored for several years. Storing data for up to five years is not uncommon. Private companies maintain this data and offer it for sale to other companies including law enforcement. Although law enforcement officials will typically have a subscription and will subscribe to access this data.
This data helps law enforcement officials create hotlists. Hotlists will contain lists of license plates of individuals who have outstanding warrants or these lists will have the license plates of stolen vehicles. Once the camera on the reader scans the license plate, the officer will be alerted. These alerts can be added to these hotlists.
Automated license plate readers are created with potent technology. These readers collect an immense amount of information fairly quickly from simply reading the license plate. Some ALPR systems go beyond collecting location and date. Some systems are advanced enough to collect the make and model of vehicle. The most advanced systems can process the data from thousands of license plates per minute. Some of the major makers of this technology has scanned billions of license plates. Names of drivers are not collected. However, finding out the name of the owner of a vehicle is very simple especially when the license plate number has already been collected.
Sometimes these readers collect more sensitive information. Images of people riding in the vehicle can be detected. Even a person entering or exiting a vehicle can be detected. Bumper stickers can be picked up as well. These bumper stickers may alert officials to more personal details about a person. A bumper sticker may give reference to a driver’s social or political preferences.
The technology of automated license plate readers has its perks. This technology can allow law enforcement individuals to conduct their jobs more effectively. However, these readers come with a downside as well. Sometimes these readers may infringe upon rights and privacy. These readers may be collecting more information than what people are aware of.