City of San Jose Looking To Attach Automatic License Plate Readers To Garbage Trucks

from the proxy-police dept

Because automatic license plate readers just aren’t efficient enough — what with their ability to capture hundreds, if not thousands, of plate scans per hour — San Jose’s city government is looking to deputize other businesses and their vehicles in its quest to achieve 100% coverage of the city.

Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilmen Johnny Khamis and Raul Peralez proposed that the city consider strapping license plate readers to the front of garbage trucks, allowing them to record the plates of every car along their routes. The data would be fed directly to the Police Department from the privately operated trash trucks, prompting an officer to respond to stolen vehicles or cars involved with serious crime.

“We can cover every street at least once a week and possibly deter thieves from coming into our city,” Khamis said. A committee chaired by Liccardo that sets the council’s agenda voted Wednesday to continue exploring the idea.

San Jose won’t be the first city to use non-police vehicles to do its plate scanning. As was covered here earlier this year, Hampton, Virginia has mounted an ALPR to a “city van” and uses the data collected to chase down the city’s tax evaders — a term that includes anyone who owes $5 or more to the city. Another town doesn’t even use a city vehicle. Isle of Wight completely outsources its plate scanning efforts, putting it solely in the hands of a private company with its own plate scanners.

While it’s true that a vehicle parked on a public street (or one that can be viewed from a public street) has no expectation of privacy, the amount of data gathered still raises privacy-related concerns. It’s one thing to view a vehicle on a public street with a set of human eyes. It’s quite another when this set of “eyes” compiles thousands of plate-location records and stores them for weeks or months. Once that happens, it’s no longer just random cars on random streets. It’s long-term tracking.

At this point, the plan is still in its proposal stage. City officials say at least one sanitation company is already on board with the proposed program.

Khamis said Wednesday’s action is only the first step in a long process. The proposal calls for city officials to explore the “feasibility, legality and civil liberties implications” of garbage-truck mounted license plate readers. Questions the council members asked the city to consider include the process of transferring license data from the private garbage trucks to the police, whether they would be subjected to the same or different policies governing police car license readers and whether other cities have taken similar measures and how they worked.

Beyond the civil liberties implications, the city needs to examine the reality of what it’s doing: using public funds to purchase law enforcement equipment to place on private vehicles. And it needs to ask itself whether the people providing these funds — taxpayers — are on board with the use of private companies as an extension of law enforcement. It also needs to examine its motives thoroughly. Just because there’s no expectation of privacy doesn’t necessarily mean government bodies should strive for 100% exploitation of these areas.

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Comments on “City of San Jose Looking To Attach Automatic License Plate Readers To Garbage Trucks”

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scotts13 (profile) says:

The law has always assumed a balance of power...

…which is rapidly tipping to one side. Traffic laws were written with the assumption that most offenses would never been seen, prosecuted or fined. Fines were high enough to discourage the behavior, but no one expected everyone to be paying them.

Now the surveillance state wants to catch everyone, at everything. That being the case, I think we have to re-think a lot of our laws.

Is this a good idea or what? says:

Let us examize this (for all you hackers out there)...

All electronic cameras are (as far as I know) scan the image one pixel at a time. If we know what the rate of scan is, how hard would it be to have a covering device that lets us see the licence plate as it actually is but would foil any electronic camera so that it would scan a random image.

You can buy weather covers now that protect the integrity of the plates, how hard would it be to modify these covers so that extra facilities are available for privacy purposes.

It’s not like these automatic licence plate readers are ever completely accurate are they?

Any hackers able to or have already looked at this kind of functionality?

Anonymous Coward says:

San Francisco already mounts them on non-police vehicles...

… and has for at least 3 years.

They are generally unmarked white mini-vans driven by DPT (parking enforcement). Supposedly is so they can boot or tow persistent parking offenders, but I know at least one person who’s car was recovered as a result of these scans.

The problem with all this extensive surveillance is the very, very corrosive effect it has on society. I’m not sure all these agencies understand the enormous backlash that will happen at some point – an agency/career/budget ending backlash.

As Churchill once said “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”

nasch (profile) says:


Just because there’s no expectation of privacy doesn’t necessarily mean government bodies should strive for 100% exploitation of these areas.

It seems like police are resentful of the rights citizens have, and delighted and/or relieved to find a way to invade our privacy, get away with assault or murder, or just make their jobs easier at our expense.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Rights

Of course, because as they like to remind people they’re the ‘good guys’, and since the ‘good guys’ are always right, clearly anything that makes their jobs harder is to be removed or ignored as being ‘bad’.

Of course the above is only for the ‘good’ cops, the real scum go into the job to indulge their power-fantasies, and for them anything that keeps them from believing that they can do whatever they want clearly needs to be removed, as it takes all the fun out of the job.


Personanongrata says:

Tax-Feeders 'R' You

Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilmen Johnny Khamis and Raul Peralez are disgusting know-nothing nitwits.

The citizens of San Jose California should install video cameras in the offices, cars and on the lapels of every elected politician in their city to ensure the tax-feeding turds (politicians) are on the straight and narrow while on city’s time.

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