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Texas Police Are Tracking Your Every Move – Right Now – Through Automatic License Plate Readers Databases: Anyone Bother to Get Your Okay?

Automatic License Plate Readers, also known as License Plate Recognition Devices, have creeped into the daily routines of police departments across the State of Texas and elsewhere under the guise of cutting edge law enforcment technology used to capture criminals.  What the American public and the Texas citizenry are not being told is that it’s not just criminals, or accused criminals, that are getting recorded and reported: it’s all of us.

These Automatic License Plate Readers are placed in patrol cars, cameras on the hoods and boxes inside near the driver, where they automatically gather video data of every license plate that passes within their perimeter.  Every car.  Now, that doesn’t sound so bad until you learn that it’s not just one cop car at a single intersection doing this.  Nope. 

There are lots and lots and lots of gizmos out there, gathering into on license plates and where they are during the day or night.  This information is collected, and stored, giving the police the ability, should they choose to do so, of tracking any individual’s daily routine.  All by their car license tag.  Without their knowledge.  Without the person being accused of violating any law whatsoever.

These things are so commonplace that they have their own Wikipedia page, where “Automatic Number Plate Recognition,” is described as:

 … a mass surveillance method that uses optical character recognition on images to read the license plates on vehicles. They can use existing closed-circuit television or road-rule enforcement cameras, or ones specifically designed for the task. They are used by various police forces and as a method of electronic toll collection on pay-per-use roads and cataloging the movements of traffic or individuals.  ANPR can be used to store the images captured by the cameras as well as the text from the license plate, with some configurable to store a photograph of the driver. Systems commonly use infrared lighting to allow the camera to take the picture at any time of the day. ANPR technology tends to be region-specific, owing to plate variation from place to place.  Concerns about these systems have centered on privacy fears of government tracking citizens’ movements, misidentification and high error rates.

That’s right:  Texas law enforcement is using “mass surveillance” without your approval. 

The Highland Village Police Department is using this gizmo, and its Police Captain Corry Blount was recently quoted telling a San Antonio reporter  they don’t have a problem with having a database exceeding 700,000 hits (and growing) which they use as a reference tool in their investigations.  No, the individuals within the database are not notified that their information is contained within the Highland Village records. 

One of the suppliers of these Automatic License Plate Readers proudly touts the police departments of Tyler, Mesquite, and Houston as recent (and repeat) customers of its Platescan product, as well as Border Patrol organizations. 

Platescan also plans on expanding its service to sending advertisements to cars as they pass by commercial establishments — how clever, right?  This isn’t an invasion of privacy, it’s for our convenience.  Like we can’t see the Pizza Hut as we drive down the street, we need to get some advertisement inside our car that lets us know this? 

Sounds fishy, doesn’t it?  The ACLU thinks so.  The Texas Observer covered this threat to civil liberties last summer, in a cover story written by Forrest Wilder, “The Eyes of Texas Cops Are Upon You.”   One point made in the article: what happens when the police departments decide to share all this data, creating one big database?  (They’re already talking about it, all under the banner of crime investigation.)

You need to read this article, and you need to think about how much you value your right to privacy and your freedom here.  Because use of this Automatic License Plate Readers is clearly an invasion into your privacy and a threat to your civil liberties.   That’s not opinion: that’s fact.


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