Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR)

The very fact that the U.S.A. Patriot Act was renewed in 2010 (albeit with some modifications) shows alert citizens that public safety will most often trump personal privacy and in some cases, a persons civil rights. The Find Law organization alludes to the 4th Amendment in pointing out that the legal approach to warrantless searches has “been broadened” in the past few years. The Court has given the green light to searches that are justified by “special needs beyond the normal need for law enforcement,” and this ruling could apply to use of ALPR data-gathering (Find Law, 2010, p. 2). In fact, instances where “warrant and probably cause requirements are dispensed within all of these instances the governments interest has been found to outweigh the individuals (Find Law, p. 3). The readers used by police will no doubt catch some criminals and violators of motor vehicle laws — but will it reduce crime? Not likely. Will the readers help defend the nation against terrorists? There is always the possibility that the ALPR technology could locate a terrorist, and that should be one of the key reasons for its use. But since al Queda and other terrorist organizations are fully conversant with available technologies (note how they hijacked commercial airlines after careful study of the technology), they may take avoidance procedures to avoid getting caught up in a technology trap. As to the question of building a database with movements of suspicious individuals profiles — all this data gathering is sounding more and more like big brother.

And yes that is a cliche, but what is the definition of “suspicious” and what bureaucrat or law enforcement official is going to have the right to define the terms? Caution and careful protection of citizens privacy and civil rights should always be a top concern, right up there with the need to protect the country and arrest dangerous, violent individuals.

Works Cited

American Civil Liberties Union. (2009). Sent VIA Certified Mail / Chief Harry P. Dolan.

Letter to Raleigh Police Department Retrieved Nov. 30, 2010, from

American Civil Liberties Union. (2010). Automated License Plate Recognition: The Newest

Threat to Your Privacy When You Travel. Retrieved Dec. 1, 2010, from

Congressional Research Service. (2010). Amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance

Act (FISA) Set to Expire February 28, 2010. Retrieved Dec. 1, 2010, from

Find Law. (2010). U.S. Constitution: Fourth Amendment / Search and Seizure. Retrieved Nov.

30, 2010, from

Sherfinski, David. (2008). Feds Seek to expand use of license tag readers in Va. Washington

Washington Examiner. Retrieved Dec. 1, 2010, from

Sheridan, Mary Beth. (2008). License Plate Readers to Be Used in D.C. Area. The Washington

Post. Retrieved Dec. 1, 2010, from

Warner, David. (2007). A.

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