They are called automated license plate (recognition) scanners (ALPR), and St. Louis makes ongoing use of them. According to police officials, they are useful tools in the fight against crime. According to others, however, they represent a blatant invasion of privacy and a matter of serious concern in the growing surveillance state.
St. Louis Today reports the city has six police cars equipped with the technology—technology that scans passing vehicles and stores information about their location. Those six cameras have scanned 3 million license plates. If you live in St. Louis, they’ve likely scanned yours. If you live elsewhere, the technology is probably in place there too.
In March 2011, a survey from the Police Executive Research Forum found that 71% of responding police agencies were using ALPR technology. That number is only expected to grow.
But, unless you are breaking the law (and even if you are breaking the law), should the government be able to store information about where you were and when?
Law enforcement officials say yes.
“It’s a really great investigative tool,” said Capt. Kenneth Kegel with the SLPD, who reports the city has been able to use ALPR information to track and locate stolen vehicles and even solve robberies and burglaries. The ACLU and others don’t see it as a completely harmless tool, however.
“There are legitimate reasons that law enforcement can use this technology,” said Anthony Robert of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri. “There’s just a lot of potential for…forcing us to surrender information about ourselves that is private. Where we go to church. What political events we attend…what doctors we go to.”
The ACLU and others say there need to be strict limitations on the data that is compiled and how it is stored. Some jurisdictions keep the data for only 30 days; in St. Louis, it’s kept for one year.
“I think that there need to be…clear regulations to keep authorities from tracking our movements on a massive scale,” said Rothert. “The technology and the local police departments are getting ahead…of the law in protecting our privacy.”
The likelihood of you being caught on APLR is great. The chances of it being used as evidence against you in a criminal case, however, is miniscule. It’s overkill.
If you’re facing criminal charges, you need someone on your side watching out for your best interests and protecting your rights. Contact our office today to discuss your case and how we might be able to help.