Vehicle Identification and Tracking

 

In License Plate Recognition Systems Extend the Reach of Patrol Officers (April 2008, Government Technology), Jim McKay reports on the benefits, barriers, and potential hazards of license plate recognition systems. 

 

Already well established in the United Kingdom, where by some estimates citizens are filmed more than 300 times a day, license plate recognition systems are now spreading across the United States. These systems are comprised of a camera mounted on police squad cars and an optical character recognition (OCR) processor, which reads the data and compares it against numerous violations databases. Automated license plate recognition systems (ALPR), for example, have enabled officers to identify stolen vehicles and to track vehicles used in kidnappings and hit-and-runs.

 

According to Charlie Beck, Chief of Detectives, Los Angeles Police Department, these systems “recover four to five times the number of vehicles an officer would recover.” But, this is just the beginning, Beck notes, “[a]s an investigative tool, it has unlimited potential…The real value comes from the long-term investigative use of being able to track vehicles – where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing – and tie that to crimes that have occurred or that will occur [emphasis added].”

 

Los Angeles is also using license plate recognition systems as a tool for parking enforcement. When combining ALPR unit with GPS, the system can track which cars have been parked for more than the permitted time period. Beck adds, “It’s a big boon for them, [b]ut the investigative boon for us is they will collect all this data from the cars that were parked, so you have this huge advantage. If you have a rape, burglary or some other crime in the area, the detectives can search the system to see if there’s any data involving the cars that were parked there.”  But, why stop there. These systems also are being used to find tax cheats, among other scofflaws, notes Brian Shockley, VP of marketing for PIPS Technology, which manufactures and distributes ALPR technology.

 

Needless to say, privacy is a real concern. Andrew Blumberg, a Samelson postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, comments, “The real potential for danger is collecting a tremendous amount of information, which can then be used, very inexpensively, to do speculative data mining based on searches for target people for various kinds of extra-judicial harassment.” Further, most agencies retain this information for extended periods for investigative purposes. Beck cautions, “This is the future, and we can either figure out good ways to use it, put good restrictions on it, make sure it’s used by people who have a reason and authorization to use it, or it will grow wildly on us.”

Source: Government Technology

For the full text of this article, see http://www.govtech.com/dc/articles/282014

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