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    Center for Investigative Reporting: Privacy, accuracy concerns as license-plate readers expand

    The Center for Investigative Reporting looks into privacy questions concerning the use of license-plate readers:

    [Today,] the use of license-plate readers has emerged as one of the biggest concerns among privacy advocates. Car-tracking technology is becoming ubiquitous in cities around the United States, and the types of data collected and analyzed with the help of license-plate readers is expanding into other realms of personal information.

    Documents obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting show that a leading maker of license-plate readers wants to merge the vehicle identification technology with other sources of identifying information. Vigilant Solutions is pushing a system that eventually could help fuse public records, license plates and facial recognition databases for police in the field.

    The Livermore company released facial recognition software last year for use in stationary and mobile devices. The technology uses algorithms to determine whether a person’s face matches that of someone in a law enforcement database. Like license-plate readers, privacy advocates say, the technology can make incorrect identifications that ensnare innocent people.

    Vigilant also is the market leader in license-plate data collection. The company runs the Law Enforcement Archive and Reporting Network database, which stores more than 2.5 billion records and adds 70 million new license-plate scans monthly. […]

    Privacy advocates said combining historical plate-reader data with public records and facial recognition technology runs contrary to law enforcement’s argument that license plates are not considered personally identifying information. […]

    By combining the location data from license-plate readers with public records such as court files and property records – as well as photographs of people from criminal or DMV databases – into one search tool that could be used with facial recognition software, license-plate readers could move into uncharted territory.

    A plate reader could tag a passing car and the names of people associated with the vehicle and keep a log of where that person traveled.

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