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Raleigh police Officer John Maultsby says the new scanning system is safe and is working to catch crooks.  (Source: Keith Baker/WRAL)

The American Civil Liberties Union has request more information to determine if the scanning violations privacy protections, based on current legal interpretation of the Bill of Rights.  (Source: ACLU)
Raleigh, NC police system stores records of your license plates and location

Would it bother you if there was a record of where you were at all times, stored in a public database? That's the concern that citizens in Raleigh, North Carolina have expressed. 

Raleigh area police have just adopted a new Automated License Plate Reader system that they say will make citizens in the region more secure.  The system consists of four cameras mounted to police cruisers that automatically read license plates of nearby cars (the cost to outfit each cruiser can cost between $18,000 to $20,000).  The results are sent back to the police headquarters, where they are scanned for matches in the national criminal database.

The police say the system is working great.  It has already help recover several stolen vehicles and locate at least one missing person.  Describes Officer John Maultsby, "With this technology, it can read hundreds of plates in a couple of seconds if there are that many plates for it to see."

The system, however, is stirring up controversy.  Some take issue with the fact that your license plate information and location is stored both in the police cruiser and at the police headquarters, regardless of if you committed a crime.  The police have not made it clear how long this information is stored.

Such information could be dangerous if it was stolen.  It could reveal many embarrassing, but perfectly legal behaviors. Given that government databases are routinely compromised by hackers, many worry about the possibility of privacy risks to law-abiding citizens.

Raleigh is home to roughly 400,000 U.S. citizens.  It is the state capital of North Carolina, and the state's second largest city.  Numerous colleges, including North Carolina State University, Shaw University, Peace College, and St. Augustine's College, are located in Raleigh.  The students at these schools are taking note of the debate, and many have strong opinions on it.

States N.C. State student Ian Kilgore, "It’s just privacy. Even though I am not doing anything wrong, and I don’t have anything to hide, I still don’t want people to know where I am at any given time."

The U.S. Constitution contains no specific mention of a "right to privacy", but the precedent set by the highest court in the U.S., the Supreme Court, interprets the 9th Amendment to offer privacy protections.  Important cases that established this precedent include several contraception-related cases (the Griswold and Eisenstadt cases), an interracial marriage case (the Loving case), and the well-known abortion case, Roe v Wade. 

The 9th amendment states:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Other amendments in the Bill of Rights also been interpreted to provide privacy protections, such as the 3rd, the 4th's search and seizure limits, and the 5th's self-incrimination limit.

The American Civil Liberties Union, a U.S. rights watchdog group, has not challenged the new system, but has expressed its concern.  It has sent a letter to the Raleigh police asking for a copy of their policy concerning the use of the scanners.  The policy would likely reveal information such as how long location information is stored and what kind of protections are in place to prevent its accidental release.

Jennifer Rudinger with the ACLU of N.C. comments, "If an officer does not get a hit when scanning a plate, then there is no legitimate reason for law enforcement to keep it on file for any length of time."

Concerns over similar systems have been raised nationwide in Washington D.C. and elsewhere.



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RE: *bzzz* wrong
By JonnyDough on 3/31/2010 12:04:57 PM , Rating: 2
I have to wonder if we're not already able to track people's whereabouts for a good month using GPS. If you rob a liquor store and make a getaway with a blue sedan there's probably a good chance they'll track your sedan anyway.

When trying to figure out who a serial killer is, this kind of information could be pretty vital. If there are five guys who regularly visit an area on certain nights when killings take place and there are five killings that take place there over twenty years but only one guy lives there during that entire time then it would seem that the cops might have a good suspect to investigate. Initial costs for this system might seem high, but when you figure in the costs saved on investigation over a long period of time it may make the system well worth the money.

This is another one of those instances where the "Liberty vs safety" question is raised.

To quote it before anyone else does, because I believe it to be applicable:

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." ~ Benjamin Franklin


RE: *bzzz* wrong
By fcx56 on 3/31/2010 12:42:26 PM , Rating: 4
Why can't anyone seem to understand that GPS is a passive system? You really think your car/cell/TomTom/whatever is actively sending data to GPS satellites? Sure they could track you, if the liquor store owner was too busy to notice you stealing that bottle Jim Beam because he was out in his parking lot covertly installing GPS data loggers with 3G transmitters then yeah, I guess he could track you. Or more logically just use his store security camera to grab your plate in the parking lot and then Raliegh cops would find you almost automatically the next time you drove by a cruiser.
Your serial killer example is slightly more sound, assuming you had a cop car stationed outside the victims homes. This tech doesn't track you so much as fix your location every time you pass a squad (under ideal conditions such as lighting and an unobstructed view). I can count many days I drive and don't encounter police for the whole day. No automatic vehicle "status updates" then!


RE: *bzzz* wrong
By porkpie on 3/31/2010 12:49:39 PM , Rating: 3
"I can count many days I drive and don't encounter police for the whole day. No automatic vehicle "status updates" then!"

The next logical step is license plate cameras in stop lights and highway signs, recording with or without the presence of a police cruiser. In fact, some cities have this already, in the form of auto "red light ticketing" systems.


RE: *bzzz* wrong
By therealnickdanger on 3/31/10, Rating: 0
RE: *bzzz* wrong
By porkpie on 3/31/2010 5:08:00 PM , Rating: 2
There are many actions we can easily take to reduce illegal activity. Remove the right to appeal, and institute an automatic death penalty for all felony offenses is one. Allow police officers to make "no-knock" warrantless searches of any house at any time. Force all citizens to wear GPS tracking devices at all times. Preventing speeding is even easier...install speed governors on all vehicles.

It's easy to reduce crime. The problem is doing it without trampling on civil liberties.

It's easy to say "you're in public: you have no expectation of privacy". But any time a person steps outside their home, they're in public. It's an easy step to go from this system, to a nationwide web that tracks the location of every citizen in real time.

Furthermore, it's easy to see such information being used not only to stop violent crimes, but used to aid the IRS in tax collection, or in divorce cases or other civil suits, or even abused by government employees to harass people (remember how Joe the Plumber's govt' records were accessed and revealed by pro-Obama supporter).


RE: *bzzz* wrong
By therealnickdanger on 4/1/2010 2:19:43 PM , Rating: 2
When you *allowed* to drive on public roads, you agree to abide by the laws in place. Failure to observe those laws results in fines, punishments, revocation, etc. It's really simple to understand.

I never said you have "no expectation of privacy" while in public, but running a red light and killing a family of four is a very public issue. It's an illegal action. Whether or not the crime results in damage to persons or property does not affect its status as a crime. Would it be different if a bystander with a camera took the picture of the crash VS a thoroughly tested and calibrated "photocop"? The crash still happened and the lives of those who didn't take illegal action are forever disrupted. Even if no one died, the crime still occurred. The picture is taken, an authorized person reviews the photo, and the fine is sent. Apparently, people stop running red lights. Who knew?

Red light cameras reduce the criminal act of red light running, which in turn reduces the number of incidents associated with that crime. In a free and public society, the people are allowed to install them in order to recieve the benefits (money and safety). Arguing "privacy" is definitely not a strong case.


RE: *bzzz* wrong
By thrust2night on 4/1/2010 5:58:25 PM , Rating: 2
Sir, arguing privacy is in fact a strong case. You used the crash example and compared it to a bystander and a photocop. To answer your question, it would be different if a bystander took the photo or if it was taken by a camera installed by the police. The latter is designed to take pictures in that location 24/7. That is its purpose, its "intent". The bystander happened to be at the right place at the right time. Now let me ask you this, what if these photocops were upgraded to make recordings 24/7 of the cars in their line of sight instead of taking a picture only if I run a red light? With all the cameras around the United States, and even in the town I live in, it would be very easy for my daily routes to become public knowledge.

I agree with you that it is a free and public society and because of this, we have the right to question the implementation of such technologies by our government.

The death you described is a very tragic example, but that does not give the government the right to ignore people's right to privacy. Our rights are important, if not, why wouldn't the government just ban alcohol? This would stop drunk drivers from running people over when they drink and drive. Why not simply monitor peoples phone conversations? This would help the government identify and catch terrorists and save thousands of families.

Is arguing privacy a strong case only when it is blatantly obvious? or is is better for us to err on the side of caution when it comes to respecting our rights to privacy and anonymity?


RE: *bzzz* wrong
By Chernobyl68 on 4/1/2010 6:33:38 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
why wouldn't the government just ban alcohol?


...'cause its been tried?


RE: *bzzz* wrong
By JonnyDough on 4/1/2010 7:51:11 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
You really think your car/cell/TomTom/whatever is actively sending data to GPS satellites?


Yes. In fact I'm pretty sure my Droid does, especially since its part of the TOS of using some of the programs on it. Ever hear of Latitude? Accurate within 3 meters.

Consider for a second that the resources in your telephone are getting vastly greater. Processing power in these little gadgets is amazing. It really doesn't take much to track you...and the hardware and software is getting more and more complex. So do I think that I can be tracked using my phone without my permission? Does China hack our government networks and are we hacking theirs? Yes.


RE: *bzzz* wrong
By Arc177 on 4/1/2010 2:50:25 PM , Rating: 2
Ehh, no your phone does not send data to GPS sats. Maybe through your GPS sw on your phone, but definitely not to the GPS satellite constellation...


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