Monday, November 21, 2011

Who’s Watching You

During our podcast with the HoCo Chief of Police last Friday we talked a bit about the increasing role of cameras and license plate readers in law enforcement. Paul asked Bill about how the department balances privacy concerns with public safety since these cameras actually store the images they capture for a period of time.

That period of time varies by jurisdiction too. According to this story by Allison Klein and Josh White in The Washington Post the collected data is kept for “three years in the District, two years in Alexandria, a year in Prince George’s County and a Maryland state database, and about a month in many other suburban areas.”

As I wrote in this post back in September, the HoCo police have had cruisers equipped with license plate readers for awhile now but they also have cameras mounted at key intersections as well, watching us twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.

Law enforcement sees these cameras and readers as a valuable tool.

“Having the technology during the Washington area sniper shootings in 2002 might have stopped the attacks sooner, detectives said, because police could have checked whether any particular car was showing up at each of the shooting sites.”

Civil libertariansof course, are concerned.

“That’s quite a large database of innocent people’s comings and goings,” said Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union’s technology and liberty program. “The government has no business collecting that kind of information on people without a warrant.”

Then again, maybe not.

“Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University who has been closely watching the Supreme Court case, said the license plate technology probably would pass constitutional muster because there is no reasonable expectation of privacy on public streets.”

There is some good news for HoCo locos though. In September I ended the post by saying that I’d be sure to pay all my parking tickets on time from now on. It turns out that, as far as the HoCo loco police, I needn’t worry about that. Bill told us that they are not using the license plate readers for that…yet.

On the other hand, an unpaid parking ticket in HoCo could soon bring you another kind of grief.
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