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Introduction of license plate readers met with privacy concerns

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 8:41 PM
Last updated Wednesday, July 16, 2014 9:45 AM
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Since purchasing a license plate reader, the Harlem Department of Public Safety has seen a dramatic shift in driver behavior. But at least one national organization isn’t pleased with the technology leading to this behavioral change.

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The Hephzibah Police Department is currently testing tag readers on one of its cruisers. Despite his limited time with the technology, Chief Dwayne Flowers said he hopes to purchase tag readers for the department in the future.   TRAVIS HIGHFIELD/STAFF
TRAVIS HIGHFIELD/STAFF
The Hephzibah Police Department is currently testing tag readers on one of its cruisers. Despite his limited time with the technology, Chief Dwayne Flowers said he hopes to purchase tag readers for the department in the future.


The American Civil Liberties Union is concerned the technology might cost motorists something a little more valuable than money: their privacy.

In a July 2013 report, You Are Being Tracked, the ACLU warns that the equipment opens the door for potential abuse.

“More and more cameras, longer retention periods, and widespread sharing allow law enforcement agents to assemble the individual puzzle pieces of where we have been over time into a single, high-resolution image of our lives,” the report said. “The knowledge that one is subject to constant monitoring can chill the exercise of our cherished rights to free speech and association.”

Richmond County sheriff’s Lt. Ramone Lamkin defended the use of license plate readers by pointing out that officers already can do everything a reader can do, just slower.

“Officers do the same thing now,” he said. “The machine is just doing it for you. That’s all. It just runs the tags automatically. It’s not putting that information out anywhere. It’s going to our secured database.”

Readers come in several forms, but local law enforcement agencies tend to use car-mounted models.

Setups are usually adjusted based on the types of roads patrolled. The Hephzibah Police Department is seeking a two-camera system because it patrols mostly two-lane streets, for instance. The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, which tested the equipment extensively last year, fielded a four-camera unit.

The Harlem Department of Public Safety first began testing a three-camera setup mounted to the back of a patrol car in February, Chief Gary Jones said, and was able to pay for the $20,000 system primarily through the revenue generated by traffic citations. There was about a 35 percent increase in court cases as a result of the first 90 days with the technology.

The average ticket issued during that period was about $790, with most of the infractions involving uninsured drivers and violators driving with suspended registration. Occasionally, Harlem public safety officers found fugitives or people with active arrests warrants.

“We’ve begun to notice that more people have become compliant – at least our local folks are – because they know we have it,” Jones said. “That’s what we were going after, anyways: voluntary compliance. Instead of getting eight, 10 or 12 hits on violators, we might get one a day.”

The technology has the ability to read several thousand tags in real time, far outpacing the average officer on patrol, which is why Hephzibah Police Chief Dwayne Flowers is pushing hard to obtain a reader permanently.

“They make the roads safer,” he said. “It’s just a another tool to help us be proactive in policing. Anything we can do to make the criminal element uncomfortable here, that’s what we want to do.”

Criminals might not be the only ones who are uncomfortable, the ACLU contends. In its 2013 report, the ACLU maintained that license plate readers collect information on innocent motorist more often than violators.

According to statistics compiled by Maryland’s state data fusion center, from January through May 2012, plate readers had more than 29 million reads. About 0.2 percent of those reads were hits, mostly involving suspended or revoked registrations.

Some agencies, such as the Ohio State Highway Patrol, have policies to delete all “nonhit” readings immediately. Others have no set retention period.

Jones said the unit purchased by his department doesn’t hold that information. Instead, it runs data against the Georgia Crime Information Center to alert officers of a match only when one is found.

“It does not retain any of the information, nor does it take any photographs of the driver or any of the occupants,” he said. “It’s instantaneous, and you act upon it at that very moment. The only time that it gives an alert or shows anything is when it’s an invalid type of vehicle with an infraction of some sort.”

The ACLU puts forth several potential scenarios in its report, some involving a disgruntled officer using the device to track the locations of rivals or ex-lovers.

A corrupt law enforcement officer wouldn’t need advance equipment to do such things, said Jones, the Harlem chief.

“There’s obviously room for abuse even just running a tag,” he said. “An officer can certainly run a tag for personal benefit if that’s what they wanted to do on a female, for example. But that’s in violation of GCIC rules and regulations, as well as departmental. You’ve got those guidelines you still have to follow any way that you look at it.”

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Just My Opinion
5866
Points
Just My Opinion 07/15/14 - 09:01 pm
8
3
I really don't see what the

I really don't see what the downside to this would be. And as far as the retention period of the tag info, I see that as having value as well. For example, if a robbery occurred in Augusta and the perp's car had license AAA111, if the Harlem PD had that license come up regularly (with no infractions), then that would expedite the discovery of the vehicle.
Now, I'm open to read reasons why this isn't good for all of us. If it's bad for the bad guys, then it's usually good for the good guys, right?

flipa1
2198
Points
flipa1 07/16/14 - 01:09 am
9
2
We're happy the good guys us

We're happy the good guys use them, but we've seen other cars with them and they ARE NOT COPS. What are the laws about non-LEO's using tag readers? We've seen a VW beetle with them and another car reading tags that ARE NOT COPS.

KSL
134445
Points
KSL 07/16/14 - 02:16 am
5
2
But what if law enforcement

But what if law enforcement becomes corrupted or the bad guys have them?

Dixieman
15997
Points
Dixieman 07/16/14 - 05:47 am
8
3
If the ACLU is agin' it...

...I'm for it.
(Except now I'm going to have to take a different route to my girlfriend's house before my wife finds out where I'm driving!)

nocnoc
44930
Points
nocnoc 07/16/14 - 07:21 am
7
1
Citizen Solution still the same we used for Stop Light Cameras

Attach a cheap Bike rack with a junk bike attached.
Blocking the tag from direct view

nocnoc
44930
Points
nocnoc 07/16/14 - 08:03 am
9
0
While I seldomly side with the ACLU sometimes they hit on

something we both agree.

PRIVACY

Car Tag Readers go deeper than just reading the Tag.
They are many times used indirectly to track the locations of cars.

The Database is either State or DOJ funded. Each tag inquiry is logged by the NCIC system with GPS location and UTC time and are stored in a database. This ain't the IRS the files don't get lost.

Any one say Big Brother? Any one?

BTW: What happen to the Tracking plan for cameras that were going to be placed on the 13th, 5th and Gordon Hwy bridges to track car tags entering and leaving Downtown to and from SC? What was the excuse then ..... Stolen cars?

deestafford
28681
Points
deestafford 07/16/14 - 07:33 am
5
5
In the eyes of the ACLU...

In the eyes of the ACLU having a police department leads to potential abuse and should be avoided. What a useless organization.

corgimom
34064
Points
corgimom 07/16/14 - 07:53 am
6
5
If you have a car on a public

If you have a car on a public road, you don't have privacy.

The tag is clearly visible to all.

corgimom
34064
Points
corgimom 07/16/14 - 07:54 am
11
1
And if it finds drivers that

And if it finds drivers that have no insurance or no registration, I'm all for that.

nocnoc
44930
Points
nocnoc 07/16/14 - 08:02 am
8
0
deestafford - I agree with you , 99% on the ACLU is a problem

But they have accomplished a few (FEW) things even I agree with.

""Scottsboro Boys"" efforts

Protecting Religious Freedoms where a Georgia ordinance prohibiting the distribution of ""literature of any kind"" without a City Manager's permit, was deemed a violation of religious liberty.

The Anti-White Trash law that California held was struck down as a violation of the right to interstate travel.

Protecting Religious Freedoms

Fought and several cases of Government censorship,

The Entrapment ruling where Federal Law Enforcement use to plant evidence to guarantee convictions. Ruled the same standards applied to state and local police as well.

Miranda v. Arizona

While they seldom do things I agree with, 1 in 100 I can

BTW: did you know The State of Ga refused to seat Julian Bond who had been denied his seat for publicly supporting Vietnam War draft resisters and draft evaders.

Riverman1
86917
Points
Riverman1 07/16/14 - 08:06 am
8
0
I Find This Statement Interesting

“It does not retain any of the information, nor does it take any photographs of the driver or any of the occupants,” he said.

It has been my contention for a while that cameras taking photos of the driver and occupants routinely is an invasion of privacy. It's interesting the Chief makes a point to inform us they are NOT doing that.

nocnoc
44930
Points
nocnoc 07/16/14 - 08:10 am
6
0
C-Mom I agree with this part of your comments

"And if it finds drivers that have no insurance or no registration, I'm all for that."

However, would you support them collecting your travel habits?

Would you support your travel habits being released under a FOIA request?

Would you like to get mail sent to you like:
"we Noted your vehicle was park near _____ and you used your credit card at ______. How about shopping _____ we are better and have lower prices." Or you start getting unsolicited materials related to every business within 2 walking blocks?

Or do you think the Government over the last 50 years has shown it can be trusted to do the right thing?

Riverman1
86917
Points
Riverman1 07/16/14 - 08:13 am
3
4
Can't Use It In Some Places

Do this in East Richmond County and you would be pulling over about 75% of the vehicles, I'd guess. Enforcing the law would shut down that part of the county.

nocnoc
44930
Points
nocnoc 07/16/14 - 08:17 am
5
0
RM1 - OK I'll might buy that they don't record occupants. YET!

due the nature of the sweep and camera type used for scan.

But do you believe the time & location aren't tracked and kept?

Remember like all technology, its uses advance quicker than the law and Privacy protections.

BTW: Personal Drones have been out for 4 years and for under $500 is one example. What GA Law covers them?

nocnoc
44930
Points
nocnoc 07/16/14 - 08:22 am
5
1
I do have to ask the missing question

Why does Harlem GA with Population: 2,779 need license plate trackers?

What do they have 250 cars with tags in Harlem?

GiantsAllDay
9853
Points
GiantsAllDay 07/16/14 - 08:49 am
7
0
I'm split on this issue.

I'm split on this issue. Using high tech methods to determine valid registration and insurance is a good thing, IMO. If I have to pay registration and insurance, so should everyone else. However, tracking citizens' movements is a complete other thing. Anytime a small town police chief says, "you just have to trust us" raises HUGE red flags. Cops LOVE their toys, no matter the size of the department.

Riverman1
86917
Points
Riverman1 07/16/14 - 08:52 am
8
0
I-20 Next?

Noc, don't get me wrong, I'm not in favor of any of this invasion of privacy by ANY means. The Chief also hints it's mainly catching non-residents. Heck, some small towns could put it on I-20 and fund their police force.

JRC2024
9290
Points
JRC2024 07/16/14 - 09:02 am
6
0
They need them to increase

They need them to increase the money in the departments.

nocnoc
44930
Points
nocnoc 07/16/14 - 09:37 am
5
1
BTW: A FEW OTHER QUESTIONS

Wasn't the Harlem Police Dept the ones that "accidentally" let their FCC Radar license/permit lapse for over 6 months and plus had a judge refusing defendants the right to question the validity of the Device?

If memory serves me they had to refund a A LOT of $$$$$$, over 6 months worth?

So tell me how they afforded these units again so soon after losing 6+ months worth of revenue?

OBTW: Using the documented ROI example:
29 million reads produced 0.2 percent hits or 58/290,000
or about 1 in 5000 searches.

Harlem is going to have to WASTE a lot of LEO GAS and LEO community enforcement patrol time to pay for those units.

Note: the last time I touched one, it read stationary vehicle tags or very slow moving cars.

Plus in GA we only use 1 rear end tag to cars unlike other state used as an hit example that have front and back tags.So now we are
talking 1 in 10,000 searches (reads on average).

Is it a revenue based decision then?
Given the statement "its nothing we aren't doing now....just faster" Plus LEO don't scan 5000 tags on a whim. They scan based on Probable Cause. A Major Privacy issue.

An like I said before the scan is ran through the NCIC system it get logged and documented and stored on the Federal and maybe the state GBI Levels. So while they say "WE" don't save or track the data... are they playing a word game with the truth?

Since now a computer decides.
I see the new Harlem excuse "The Made Me Do It."

bdouglas
5398
Points
bdouglas 07/16/14 - 09:34 am
6
1
@nocnoc

Attaching a bike rack or anything else to obstruct the view of your license plate is illegal. Whether or not it's enforced often is a whole other story, but it's certainly illegal per Georgia Code § 40-2-41 - Display of license plates.

justthefacts
22710
Points
justthefacts 07/16/14 - 09:36 am
4
2
Wonder?

How much longer before the gov't starts installing those chips in our heads so they can track our every move?

nocnoc
44930
Points
nocnoc 07/16/14 - 09:40 am
3
2
bdouglas - never been ticketed for a bike rack

Can't remember every speaking with a LEO that has either...
Although the OCGA is clear....

We are a Touchy-Feely Nation on a Health and fitness craze
What DA is not going to drop it quickly, knowing how a jury will look at it.

nocnoc
44930
Points
nocnoc 07/16/14 - 09:48 am
4
0
RM1 Small towns and Ticket revenue funds OCGA Law

After a small town (Pine ????) around Atlanta (Harlem size) started mass ticketing to support it budgets increases and etc... The Gold Dome stepped in and passed a law (Late 90's very early 2000) limiting the % or revenue that maybe collected. I want to say a lot less 10% of the total LEO budget.

myfather15
55764
Points
myfather15 07/16/14 - 10:15 am
4
0
nocnoc

"Attach a cheap Bike rack with a junk bike attached.
Blocking the tag from direct view"

Obstructing a vehicle registration tag from view is illegal and a citable offense. It must be visible at all times, even a tag frame which obstructs the view is illegal.

OJP
6948
Points
OJP 07/16/14 - 10:16 am
4
1
Yes.

Surely the practical and budgetary limitations of police were taken into account when the Founders drafted the Fourth Amendment. They had no reason to deny the police the power to log every public movement of every citizen because it simply was not a possibility. Now it is.

The Supreme Court has already ruled that the police can't throw a GPS sensor on your car without a warrant, despite being able to follow you around all day one-to-one. This is no different.

myfather15
55764
Points
myfather15 07/16/14 - 10:28 am
4
0
nocnoc

Their radar permit expired BEFORE Chief Jones took over, and HE discovered it and brought attention to it; WILLFULLY reimbursing those who received speeding tickets!! That's called HONOR and many departments might not have told on themselves, and just hoped nobody noticed; because most people are even aware they must have a license. Most speeding tickets are either paid or even if argued in court, the validity of their radar license isn't even brought up!

Because that issue was ONLY with speeding tickets; issued based upon the radar device!! The department must have a valid permit, issued by the State to use a radar speed dectection device; so they had to refund any SPEEDING citations issued during the time frame the license was expired. But they also did this WILLFULLY, not because they were forced. All other citations did NOT apply for refunds; so they still made revenue during this time.

So, in my opinion; one who is willing to tell on themselves, can probably receive public trust to do the right thing; as with these tag readers.

The bottom line is; LE agencies and their officers must have the trust of the citizens they serve!! Because this tag reader doesn't give them the ability to do anything they can't do already!! I don't have a tag reader, but If I have a girlfriend and see a strange car in her driveway, I can still run the tag at any time; but NOT legally, because I'm not investigating a crime and it's for PERSONAL use only!!

It's actually a FELONY for a LE officer to use GCIC information for personal use, with a 5 year prison sentence and a $50,000.00 fine!! So that alone greatly discourages abuse!!

myfather15
55764
Points
myfather15 07/16/14 - 10:37 am
7
0
I believe tag readers are a

I believe tag readers are a wonderful thing, when used properly!! They can find stolen vehicles faster and serious traffic offenses like not having insurance!! Do you want people on the road, hitting you; that don't have insurance?

The ONLY problem I have with them, is that tend to target poorer people; that haven't the money to renew their tag!! Yes, I KNOW everyone has to renew their tags equally, across the board; but it's hard not to have compassion for people with children and very little money who are struggling to make ends meet. But with this compassison, I'm only speaking of EXPIRED TAGS, not suspended registrations or no insurance. Those are more serious offenses.

I knew an officer who sat up in a very well off neighborhood, and actually called me complaining, saying "I've been sitting there an hour and a half, and haven't got one violation." I told him "Duh!! Those people can afford their tags. Now trying sitting up near a trailer park and the tag reader will go off on every other vehicle."

So, I believe officer's using this should use GREAT discretion with minor violations; maybe issuing more warnings than citations!! One who can't afford to renew their tag, certainly won't be able to do so after paying a $200.00 fine, now will they? But, If you've warned that person and they still don't take action to get their tag, that's on them; and a citation would be justified.

Now, I'll sit back and let the blasting being!!

OJP
6948
Points
OJP 07/16/14 - 10:56 am
6
0
@myfather15

No blasting from me. You make a great point.

"How noble the law, in its majestic equality, that both the rich and poor are equally prohibited from peeing in the streets, sleeping under bridges, and stealing bread!" - Anatole France

Bizkit
32950
Points
Bizkit 07/16/14 - 10:56 am
3
2
Dang folks it doesn't matter

Dang folks it doesn't matter if it us for good cause the greater concern of our privacy and civil rights out weigh that. I guarantee you if this makes it to the Supreme Court they will find this too invasive without court order.

Bizkit
32950
Points
Bizkit 07/16/14 - 11:03 am
5
0
The state of georgia is

The state of georgia is becoming a giant police state and speed trap- reminds of Ludowici. I don't see they are " serving and protecting" , but snooping and meddling and filling coffers with millions-these towns on I-75 are drawing in millions in revenues I was just reading a few months ago.

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