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.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.
"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.
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.