License Plate Readers Hit The Big Time

Hats off to Jon Campbell of the San Diego CityBeat for writing this incisive feature on how license plate recognition in cop cars offers the prospect of near-constant police surveillance. The most fun part:

Most of the LPR devices in San Diego County are vehicle-mounted, but there are also portable LPR that can be set up at special events, and fixed devices installed at hotspot terrorist targets, or other places deemed worthy of monitoring, like along Highway 94 in East County.

The system's coverage is impressive. Lt. Glenn Giannantonio of the San Diego County Sheriffs Department says that when he types in a suspect's plate number, he can be confident that he's going to get a hit. "If it's a normal person driving around, you can pretty much guarantee that the car's going to get scanned," he says.

He seems to be right. According to information gleaned from a public-records request, my Subaru was scanned, and its location logged, 24 times in the past 13 months.

That's pretty scary for some of the privacy and immigration rights activists quoted in the story. But not so much for one of the commenters on the piece. It's usually folly to pull out an internet comment as representative of anything, but I think this one is representative of a lot of reactions to potentially privacy-infringing developments (background: San Diego recently dropped red-light cameras from its traffic enforcement arsenal):

If someone you love is missing and their license plate is found it wouldn't be so bad right? If you follow the law who the hell cares? I'm all for finding criminals asap so this doesn't really bother me. Lets face it as technology increases these type of things are just going to pop up everywhere. Its only when they are used to rob you blind like red light cameras that people should be extremely ANGRY!