June 16, 2012
Two police agencies (to my knowledge) in Oklahoma are now using Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPR). The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department and the Shawnee Police Department.
These cameras snap photographs of license plates and store the image along with the vehicle’s registration data plus the time date and location of every vehicle captured. ALPR can be mounted on police vehicles or in a fixed location and they can capture thousands of license plates per hour.
Shawnee Police Chief Russell Frantz is very excited about his new surveillance technology for the same reason Oklahomans should be concerned.
“For investigating, it will be phenomenal,” Frantz said. Link
ALPR is great for spotting stolen vehicles or wanted criminals but they also capture the information of completely innocent drivers. If the information captured on non-offending drivers was immediately discarded then the concern would not be so great but that is not what is happening. Without proper rules in place, this potentially valuable tool becomes nothing less than a nationwide tracking system.
As I have written about recently, the information is being used by a private company, Vigilant Video, to build an enormous database, the National Vehicle Location Service (NLVS). As a private corporation Vigilant Video is not bound to any privacy requirements which (somewhat) restrain governmental entities and yet police departments nationwide are both supplying and utilizing the NLVS database.
You can watch Vigilant Video’s ticker that reveals how many records have been consumed by their national database here. At the moment of this writing the count was 669, 699,058.
If you follow the link to view the ticker, be sure to look at the other products this company is offering.
“Line Up” certainly caught my attention.
LineUp collects face images, detection times and “entire human” (full body) images — then catalogs all human face events into a centralized database. Using the LineUp Event Search, you can enter a suspect image into the system — and instantly search through a time-based history of every possible match.
This isn’t an issue of lack of privacy in public. We cannot stop ourselves from being viewed or photographed once we enter the public sphere. ALPR collecting, storing and sharing of this data is more properly understood to be much more than a simple sighting in public-it’s an investigation. (More on that aspect here)
The Electronic Police State
An electronic police state is characterized by state use of electronic technologies to record, organize, search and distribute forensic evidence against its citizens.
The information gathered under an electronic police state is criminal evidence, ready for use in a trial. It is gathered universally (“preventively”) and only later organized for use in prosecutions.
In an Electronic Police State, every surveillance camera recording, every email sent, every Internet site surfed, every post made, every check written, every credit card swipe, every cell phone ping…are all criminal evidence, and all are held in searchable databases. The individual can be prosecuted whenever the government wishes.
I consider it to be an assault on my autonomy as a free, independent and law abiding citizen to be entered into a tracking database. It may surprise you to know that although I am a law abiding person, I still have plenty I would like to hide from the government. I don’t want them to know where I go to church, who I associate with, what political events I attend or where I get my nails done. Even though I am not doing anything wrong-they are- and it is none of their damn business!
Lots of people have plenty to hide that is still no business whatsoever of the police or any of their cronies that they might be persuaded to share this info with. If you happen to go to AA, have a sweetie on the side or are a politician (hello!)-you should be especially concerned and more than a little creeped out.
The only reason to track and monitor anything is for control so what does that tell you about the collection of this type of information on all of us?
You have a right to receive from your chief law enforcement official;
- Any documents showing how the collected plate data is stored, shared and/or deleted
- Any auditing requirements the department has to ensure appropriate data privacy, and to discover and punish any abuse of the system.
You should be able to get this information by simply requesting it. I say “should.” It may not be that simple in which case you will want to structure your request to include reminders of Oklahoma’s Open Records Act. Fortunately, there is an easy way to do this. Use a template!
Oklahoma Open Records request template
About OK Open Records Act
Autonomy is “The desire to avoid being manipulated or dominated wholly by others.
… Loss of autonomy means loss of our capacity to control our own life
It also would be a good idea for anyone who is concerned about their privacy or autonomy to contact their local police or sheriff’s department and ask if they have or are considering using ALPR and let them know that you will cause a ruckus if they use this technology inappropriately.
Data should not be retained or shared on innocent motorists!