Portland police cars are collecting information on up to 128,000 vehicle license plates per day.
Four cameras mounted on the roof take pictures of all the cars he passes – whether parked or driving. They then feed license plate numbers into a computer.
A dash-mounted screen pings each time the computer logs another plate’s number.
the pictures taken by the license plate system aren’t usually good enough to show who’s driving; and the system is only about 80 percent accurate. That’s because sometimes there’s mud on a number plate or a trailer hitch in the way.
But some are concerned that the police could use this powerful system to find out — for example — whether a local politician is having an affair; or to learn the identities of people getting together for a political rally — a possible infringement of the right to assembly.
David Fidanque, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, doesn’t mind the system being used to catch criminals. But, he says, the government shouldn’t be collecting massive amounts of information on innocent people, “What the ACLU wants to do is not to prohibit the police from using this technology,” he said, “but put strict limits on how long the data can be retained if there isn’t a hit on the license plate.”
The ACLU is drawing up legislation requiring police to erase any number plate logged after 24 hours, unless specifically related to a criminal issue.
The police want to keep the records for four years because they once had a case that they solved by keeping the information that long.