I would imagine that a good many folks are aware of the new digital license plate reading equipment and software. You may even be aware that there are several vendors competing for lucrative city/county/state/federal agency contracts.
What you may not have been aware of -- I wasn't -- is the new designs which are intended for mobile use. In other words, they are mounted in/on patrol cars.
Impressive technology. The infra-red cameras are capable of reading license plates at triple digit speeds AND across up to four lanes of traffic AND at angles which I would not have believed capable, at up to 1,500 different license plates per minute per eight hour shift. Automatically.
At first glance, this new technology seems quite the boon for law enforcement. It's basically a program to read license plates and compare them to a list (stolen vehicles, vehicles involved in felonies, etc.), and if there's a match, to alert the officer.
Unfortunately, read above where I point out that there are several vendors in competition. That's when things go head-long into the khazi.
To make the purchase of this very expensive equipment more palatable for various government agencies, the companies have added expanded capabilities along with bells and whistles.
Doesn't sound very bad, does it?
Well, one of the first extras added seems to have been the ubiquitous GPS receiver.
Ah, I see the light dawning.
The feature is called 'Geo-fencing'. In a nutshell, 'Geo-fencing' is simply inputting a GPS location cross-indexed with a list of license plates that shouldn't be anywhere near the location. For instance, the GPS coordinates of a school, cross-indexed with the license plates of your local sex offenders. Or the GPS coordinates of a house, indexed with the license plates belonging to Protective Order suspects.
Doesn't sound too bad, until you realize that the co-ordinats and the index can be whatever the local agency deems necessary.
It gets worse. With the addition of a simple seach-capable data-base, these systems become, and I quote: "An invaluable investigation tool."
Each patrol car so equipped automatically, and without the input of the officer driving, scans every license plate the patrol car passes, moving or parked. From shift start to shift end. With a max capability up to 1,500 plates a minute. Some of which can read plates across four lanes of busy highway. Some of the higher end models take a picture of the car attached to the plate.
Depending on the model, this information is sent to the central database: either continually, periodically or at the end of the shift, depending on how much money your agency is willing to spend.
Once in said database, anyone who has access can search the database by license plate number, location, time of day, or other variable or combination of variables.
This part of the system is being marketed by telling agencies that if the agencies involved in the D.C. sniper events had had the system, they could possibly have caught the suspects much sooner.
I can see how this system would be a godsend to investigators. Find a vehicle involved in a murder, and with a series of keystrokes know its exact location at an exact time with a picture every time that vehicle passed -- or was passed by -- a patrol car. Invaluable information.
Dream come true, eh?
I think it's a screaming nightmare.
Enough patrol cars retrofitted with one of these systems and -- deliberately or not -- the government will have a record of where each and every car in the area is at least once per shift.
The potential for abuse is awe-inspiring. I have dealt with several officers who had the mistaken impression that TCIC also functioned as a date service; what they could have done with this system makes me physically ill.
Got a sneaking suspicion about the little lady? Give her license plate number to your buddy the cop and find out exactly where she's been, at what time for the past how-ever-long the system has been in use.
Don't like guns? Run one of your patrol cars through gunshop parking lots, and see where else those plates have been. It's for the children, right?
So far, sources tell me that these mobile systems are in use at:
Long Beach PD, CA;
Anne Arundel Co. PD, MD; and
Yonkers PD, NY.
I am informed that agency feedback has been "enthusiastic".
The fact that I have never heard of this system until now causes the Smell Test alarms to go off.
Nietzsche said: "Those who fight monsters should take care that in the process they do not become monsters."
Way too close to the monster for me.
Of course, I could just be paranoid. No one else who was enlightened about this at the time I was seemed to be any kind of worried about it.
I don't care. I don't like it. I don't like what a nation-wide linking of the location database in each department will spawn.