The Columbia Police Department and Boone County Sheriff’s Department are employing aggressive new law enforcement technologies to locate and track suspected criminals or other scofflaws.The Columbia Daily Tribune reports of the purchase of new automatic license plate scanning devices by these law enforcement agencies.
Devices like the The Mobile Plate Hunter-900, a product of ELSAG North America Law Enforcement Systems, and costing $20,ooo each allow for the scanning around 5000 vehicles per day in nomal use.
These devices identify and match the license plates of every car encountered against a database of vehicles or vehicle owners who may have problems with the law.
When the scanner identifes a car in the database, an alarm goes off, instantly alerting to the officer in the patrol car to the situation. Police officers not that a car flagged for a driver with an outstanding warrant can sometimes lead to multiple arrests. If the passengers in the car are searched and found to have illegal substances in the possession, multiple drug possession arrests will result.
Other common uses for these systems are identifying stolen vehicles, suspended licenses, and more.
These systems also log every plate scanned by date, time, and location as determined by GPS. So the data can be mined for other law enforcement purposes, some legitimate, some questionable.
For example, if a person with an outstanding warrant for failure to appear in court is sought, they can track his or her past movements and see if the plate has shown up in the database previously, before the warrant was ever issued. This could lead to locations to search for a fugitive, if the car happened to be tagged while parked a frequent location.
Of course, it is easy to imagine how this data can be used abusively, and perfectly innocent citizens can have their movements tracked by the government. Protections against potential abuse is an open question, since the law has yet to catch up with this kind of technology.