I’m quoted in a Washington Post article, “License Plate Readers To Be Used In D.C. Area.” Officials in the D.C. metro area “plan to install about 200 automated license plate readers on police vehicles and alongside roads in the Washington area to thwart potential terrorist attacks, dramatically expanding the use of a high-tech tool previously aimed at parking scofflaws and car thieves. […] The readers will scan the license plate of every vehicle that zooms by and run the numbers through federal criminal databases and terrorist watch lists, Reardon said. Maryland, Virginia and the District could plug in additional databases.”
The expansion of this technology raises a number of questions. What happens to all this data? “[A Virginia police officer] said that at least in the short term, officials don’t plan to store data on the scanned license plates, except for those associated with terrorism or other crime.” But that is “in the short term.” What prevents the officials from changing their minds and keeping track of every vehicle that passes by these readers — even if the drivers have done nothing wrong?
Also, will this really work to find terrorists? The license plate readers run the names against the terrorist watch lists, which continue to be proved full of problems. Will that lead to numerous individuals being detained because of mistaken matches? Senators, nuns, and federal air marshals have been caught in the watch list mess. The public needs to know much more about this program in order to learn if it is worth the costs paid — in terms of civil liberties and diverting funds from other, more proven, security programs.