License Plate Scanning

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License Plate Scanners

Law enforcement agencies are increasingly using sophisticated cameras, called “automated license plate readers” or ALPR, to scan and record the license plates of millions of cars across the country. These cameras, mounted on top of patrol cars and on city streets, can scan up to 1,800 license plate per minute, day or night, allowing one squad car to record more than 14,000 plates during the course of a single shift.

ALPRs are often touted as an easy way to find stolen cars — the system checks a scanned plate against a database of stolen or wanted cars and can instantly identify a hit, allowing officers to set up a sting to recover the car and catch the thief.  But even when there’s no match in the database and no reason to think a car is stolen or involved in a crime, police keep the data. According to the LA Weekly, LAPD and LASD together already have collected more than 160 million “data points” (license plates plus time, date, and exact location) in the greater LA area—that’s more than 20 hits for each of the more than 7 million vehicles registered in L.A. County. That’s a ton of data, but it’s not all  — law enforcement officers also have access to private databases containing hundreds of millions of plates and their coordinates collected by “repo” men.

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