RFID Journal reports that the US Department of Transportation is soliciting proposals “for the development of a radio frequency-enabled license-plate system that would assist government agencies in the enforcement of traffic laws.” DOT says (pdf):
There are increasing reports in multiple State jurisdictions across the United States that motorcycle riders intentionally conceal motorcycle license plates and operate their vehicles in a reckless manner on public roadways knowing that (1) law enforcement personnel do not possess a tool with which to positively identify the motorcycle or the rider, and (2) law enforcement personnel are prohibited from engaging in high-speed pursuit in many jurisdictions. Therefore, the goal of this research study is to develop a radio frequency identification (RFID) system for motor vehicle (including motorcycle, passenger car, light-truck, etc.) license plates to assist law enforcement in highway safety activities. While the initial concept for this project is focused on improving motorcycle operator compliance with laws through increased technology for law enforcement agencies, there are other applicable roles for this technology (i.e., identification of stolen vehicles, etc.) that would benefit law enforcement agencies.
This will be a two-phase project. Notably, the first phase will seek to: “(4) develop a mock-up for passive, read-only and read/write RFID tag/antenna that can be imbedded in (not affixed to) a motor vehicle license plate and can be programmed at the time of license plate manufacture or by a State agency at a later date with appropriate data, such as State name, license plate number, vehicle identification number (VIN), vehicle make, vehicle model, and vehicle model year.”
The second phase seeks “to determine (1) if the prototype RFID licensing system is feasible; (2) the extent to which data can be stored, collected, analyzed, and managed; and (3) the extent to which jurisdictional law enforcement agencies volunteer to accept a new technology to enforce traffic laws. These outcomes would be included in a final report detailing the extent to which a full-scale study is feasible, and if feasible, describe the most efficient methodology for a full-scale study within a State jurisdiction.”
There currently is technology in place to scan license plates — automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras. The technology is in use across the United States. For example, officials in the Washington, D.C. area, are installing license-plate readers on police vehicles and along roads. “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 [… and] Maryland, Virginia and the District could plug in additional databases,” the Washington Post reported last year. Memphis, Tennessee, police are also using license-plate scanners, as are law enforcement officials in Arizona and New York.
One of the biggest questions about the use of such technology is: What happens to all the data on innocent individuals? After all, we don’t know what the restrictions are on the collection and use of the data. Also, government use of the technology could easily widen beyond the initial program. The Department of Transportation says “the initial concept for this project is focused on improving motorcycle operator compliance with laws through increased technology for law enforcement agencies,” but the agency would also look at “other applicable roles for this technology (i.e., identification of stolen vehicles, etc.) that would benefit law enforcement agencies.”
A situation in the UK exemplifies how easily mission creep can occur. The UK police are keeping data on innocent individuals’ daily car trips for up to five years. The technology, originally installed for one purpose, has kept changing to expand data collection. Previously, surveillance cameras only recorded video. Now, “Thousands of CCTV cameras across the country have been converted to read ANPR data, capturing people’s movements in cars on motorways, main roads, airports and town centres,” the Guardian UK reported last year. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office is currently investigating the data collection, after a complaint was filed by civil liberties group Privacy International.