Cumberland Times-News

August 1, 2013

Smile!

Your license plate number may be on a candid camera


Cumberland Times-News

— Most of us are — or should be — aware that the National Security Agency has been busy gathering and storing Americans’ phone records, so many, in fact, that it must create a new facility to electronically house them all.

Recently, it was reported that the nation’s police forces are photographing, storing and sharing data on Americans’ license plates.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the number reaches into the millions, and can be kept indefinitely. Cameras that record license plate numbers can be anywhere — on an officer’s smartphone, scanners, bridges, buildings ... anywhere it’s possible to put them.

According to The Associated Press, the state of Maryland has told the ACLU that its troopers can maintain a normal patrol pattern while capturing up to 7,000 license plate images in a single eight-hour shift.

The Supreme Court has ruled that police need a court order to track a car with GPS, but a network of license plate cameras can accomplish the same thing.

We don’t necessarily look at this as a case of “Big Brother is watching,” but an extension of good police work. As one officer said, there’s no way you can write down the tag number of every car that may be have been in the vicinity of a crime scene.

Officers already have access to the National Crime Information Center, which can almost instantly tell them what they need to know about a subject. Likewise, the license tag cameras have helped recover stolen cars or enable the arrest of wanted criminals.

License plate cameras are like any other tool — whether it is a firearm, a chain saw, a hammer or even a telephone. What ultimately matters is the way they are used.