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Intersection: Sidewalks & Public Space

Chapter by Melissa Ngo

"The Myth of Security Under Camera Surveillance"


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    Update: Little Rock, Ark., Joining Towns Using License-Plate Scanners

    I’ve written about the privacy and civil liberty issues connected with the use of license-plate-scanner recognition technology to gather and record drivers’ movements. (See a previous post for more information on the camera surveillance technology.) Now, the Associated Press reports that Little Rock, a small town in Arkansas, has started using the surveillance technology.

    A police car with a device that photographs license plates moves through the city and scans the traffic on the streets, relaying the data it collects to a computer for sifting. Police say the surveillance helps identify stolen cars and drivers with outstanding arrest warrants.

    It also allows authorities to monitor where average citizens might be at any particular time. That bothers some residents, as well as groups that oppose public intrusions into individual privacy. The groups are becoming more alarmed about license plate tracking as a growing number of police departments acquire the technology. [...]

    In Little Rock, even some city officials wonder about keeping data on drivers’ movements.

    “It bothered me particularly if someone wasn’t guilty of a crime or didn’t have any active warrants or hadn’t committed a crime,” city director Ken Richardson said.

    However, Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas said the law enforcement benefits outweigh any concerns about possible abuse of the information, which, as a public record, is legally available for anyone to see. He said the department may get more of the devices. [...]

    Little Rock police bought the tracker last year for about $14,000, as interest in the technology began spreading in law enforcement circles. The purchase didn’t require city council approval and didn’t attract much attention in town. [...]

    Richardson said he didn’t hear about the device until after it had been collecting data for months. He said he said he hasn’t heard many complaints.

    “It’s hard for you to have a problem with something if you don’t know it’s going on,” he said. [...]

    Privacy advocates worry about the potential uses for such outside law enforcement, from snooping by stalkers and private investigators to businesses that sell personal data.

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