Is Big Brother Watching? (Part 2)

License Plat ReaderIn previous blog articles I discussed camera technology as it is being used for speed and red light enforcement and surveillance cameras. A third camera technology came on the scene several years ago and is gaining popularity. This technology is known as LPR. LPR stands for License Plate Reader or License Plate Recognition. The technology is this. LPRs scan a license plate. The camera takes a snapshot of the license plate and the vehicle to which it is attached. Through a character recognition algorithm the license plate information is translated to letters and numbers and then is compared against a database of wanted vehicles. If a wanted vehicle is scanned,an alert is sounded.


The good news is, this is an excellent tool to aid law enforcement. One of the duties of law enforcement is to apprehend scofflaws and bring them to justice, whether that means a person who does not pay their parking tickets or a person wanted for homicide. This is nothing new. Police Officers have been looking at license plates and using some methodology to ascertain if there is a reason to stop the vehicle. The difference is, the LPR systems make the officer much more efficient in performing this duty. Without LPR an officer could manually check a few license plates, but only a few of the hundreds he or she would encounter in a tour of duty. When equipped with an LPR, the officer is checking all the license plates encountered in a tour of duty. Much more efficient.

So, what is the problem? Why is it that the ACLU and other watch dog groups are so against the technology? Rampant paranoia? Probably, but the reason they give is they feel it is an invasion of one’s privacy if law enforcement scans, records, and retains information on your license plate. First,it isn’t your license plate. It belongs to the issuing State. It is there for the purpose of identifying a vehicle to which it is attached. So, what is the problem. The ACLU seems to think it is an invasion of a citizen;s privacy if a database is maintained that allows law enforcement to record where you have been over a given period of time. So is that possible? In theory the answer is yes, but in actuality, not very likely.

Your license plates a recorded as a matter of random chance. You either have to drive by, or be parked in an areas, patrolled by an LPR equipped vehicle, or you have to pass a location being monitored by a fixed LR camera. There are only a small number of Police cars so equipped and only a few locations where there are fixed LPR cameras. In theory, one could go forever and never be scanned. I think the ACLU staff members watched too much Star Trek. “Captain, we are being scanned” says the bridge officer. “Red Alert, Red Alert” the first officer shouts.

Should LPR cameras put society into a Red Alert state. That really depends on which element of society you represent. If you are a good guy, i.e., you pay your parking tickets, haven’t robbed a bank or committed murder, and tend to not hang in areas known for criminal activity, you have nothing to be concerned about. If you are a bad guy, then law enforcement has a better chance of apprehending you and making society safer for the good guys. So how is this a bad thing. The ACLU is blowing smoke, which is what they do. As a law-abiding citizen it makes me feel safer knowing law enforcement is more efficient. That is a good thing.

So there you have it. Three technologies for three different reasons. Red light and speed cameras are primarily revenue generating devices and do very little, if anything, to make society safer. Surveillance cameras may or may not make society safer. They do provide a perception of safety but the jury is still out as to whether they have value or not. And finally, the LPR cameras. They have demonstrated they improve safety. They have a proven track record of assisting in the apprehension of dangerous felons. There is no evidence that they can or have tracked the movements of honest, law-abiding citizens. So the question is, is big brother watching? My answer is, big brother has always been watching, now more efficiently than before. But the concern is not with watching, the concern is, does these technologies take away and of my personal freedom or liberty? In my opinion, they only enhance it.


Those are my thoughts, what are yours?

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Tom Lind

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  1. Scott LadriganAugust 3, 2013

    my concern with it is that the info is being shared or sold to further generate revenue

    insurance companies can use it to track your driving habits.

    I think it is a useful tool for law enforcement, but as with anything that collects data. federal regulations are required for what it can actually be used for and how long the data is kept. A plate is now no different from a browser tracking cookie, that what i have a problem with.
    Why should anyone know I was at walmart at 3am on this day

    1. KarenAugust 4, 2013

      I’m for any technology that is making the good guys safe and the bad guys found.

    2. KarenAugust 4, 2013

      Scott, what were you doing at Walmart at 3 in the morning?hmmm

  2. Scott LadriganAugust 3, 2013

    on a recent reality show called repo men. They show a database they logged onto to track a license plate and where the car had been been recently. If they can have access to it, generally anyone can. It showed them sharing the same info with several other people. So the data is being sold for use by third parties. Im all for getting the bad guys. but oversight needs to be inplace. selling or sharing any of the data with other than law enforcement agencies shouldnt happen.

  3. Scott LadriganAugust 3, 2013

    one more thought on some further research. The data is seemingly collected by a private company and is then sold to the police, who is but one of the buyers. I know this link im posting is cited as being from the aclu, but it does appear to be accurate.
    the end of the article is particularly interesting

  4. judy aka judi aka judithAugust 3, 2013

    Just a funny little “It could only happen to me” story. A couple of years ago I was driving to or from WI and I exited a toll road that I really didn’t realize I was on. About a month later I got a letter with a picture of my license plate and a ticket for $80 I truly didn’t even know I had bailed on what was probably a $1 or $2 toll but the killer was the fine. That seemed a bit excessive to me but you do the crime you pay the fine! I usually manage to get a ticket every year or two without the help of enhanced surveillance ! I like the camaraderie


Feel free to comment, why should I have the last word.

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