License plate readers spark controversy


In today’s age of rapidly changing technology, police need tools to help solve crimes quickly. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, advancements in high speed surveillance have enabled law enforcement to track the location of all vehicles in America, sparking controversy due to privacy concerns. From the black boxes mounted on police cars to traffic light cameras and toll roads, surveillance is a $7 billion business, according to a 2018 report by MarketsandMarkets.

Automated License Plate Readers, or ALPRs, are high speed cameras capable of capturing 1,800 license plates per minute. Plates are cross-referenced against government and privately-owned databases. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), billions of data files containing location and personal information for more than 150 million vehicles and drivers are stored for access by law enforcement, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and in some states, data mining companies.

Pennsylvania House Bill 1811 requires police ALPR data to be destroyed annually.

"The consequences of that data falling into the wrong hands can be devastating and can ruin lives. It is critical to protect that information,” Rep. Rob Matzie, the bill’s co-sponsor, said.

Campus Safety Magazine reports that college campuses in Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Texas, and other states are now using ALPRs.

“To the best of my knowledge, LCCC has no plans to implement ALPRs but they are a great tool,” James Surgeoner, Director of Public Safety at LCCC and retired police officer, said

“I am a big fan of technology. Say you have Jane Doe, a student with a Protection From Abuse Order in place (PFA), and John Smith is not permitted at her education facility. An ALPR would alert security that he was here and in violation of his PFA.”

The constitution does not protect against mass surveillance, but ALPR blockers are considered illegal in most states.