Conway City Council
Well, I just saw something pretty interesting on the local news. Apparently, the Conway City Council is considering installing license-plate-reading cameras at various intersections throughout the city. At first, I admit, I was not happy to hear this news. I don’t like red light cameras and they don’t like me. But as the newscaster went on, she explained that these license plate cameras actually serve a completely different purpose.
Known as ALPRs – automatic license plate readers – these little cameras are used to catch more serious criminals than your average lead-footed driver. The high-speed digital cameras are able to scan thousands of license plates every day, multiple license plates at a time. If the machine detects a stolen car or a driver with an outstanding warrant, it alerts the local police electronically. To me, that sounds pretty neat. The Conway City Police Chief suggested to the council that the first cameras should be installed at the intersection of U.S. 378 and U.S. 501. That’s an extremely high volume intersection. And it seems to me that since the Chief of Police doesn’t know how much of the city budget will be allocated for these cameras, he’s trying to get us the most bang for our buck. Should the city council approve the plan and provide the necessary funds, the chief said the department is also considering installing the cameras all over downtown and even buying mobile versions that can be attached to police cars.
Now I know this may raise some privacy concerns. Obviously, there will be thousands of ordinary citizens just driving their cars to work or the supermarket, whose license plate information will be captured by these ALPR cameras, but I mean, is your license plate really private information? I would say NO. And it turns out, there’s at least one other person who agrees with me. After seeing the news report, I did a little poking around on the web. Apparently, the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Fairfax County Police Department last year, challenging their use of these plate-readers. The judge in the case, however, ruled in favor of the police department. One officer explained on the news that the cameras don’t store any personal data. They simply flag the license plate of a criminal suspect.
Look, I see where the ACLU guys are coming from. The government would be keeping at least some sort of record, for however short a period, of every person and vehicle driving through whatever intersections. Yes, that’s worrying to me, and yes it certainly has the potential for abuse. On the other hand, it means fewer criminals on the streets. Say your car is stolen, you call the police and report it. As soon as that report is in their system, they’ll be instantly notified should your vehicle pass through one of these intersections. I mean, to me it seems like a no-brainer. From what I understand about these new cameras, the potential for abuse is small. And the upside to these new ALPRs is that it just became a lot harder to be a criminal in Conway City.