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Richmond Hill Using Scanning Software to Catch Expired or Suspended Vehicle Registrations

Law enforcement patrol cars are equipped with three automatic license plate readers that are capable of capturing thousands of license plates each day. These devices convert the photographs of license plate numbers into text that can be referenced against police agencies’ databases.

In Metro Atlanta and other parts of Georgia, these readers have been used to collect the license plate information of parents taking their kids to school, commuters on their way to work, and families leaving town for the holidays. This has sparked a debate about invasion of privacy because law-abiding citizens are having their information gathered without their consent.

Chad Brock, legislative counsel at the ACLU of Georgia, said “We try not to be too conspiratorial, but it’s kind of a slippery slope.”

Police departments in Atlanta, Sandy Springs, and Gwinnett County all use license plate readers, and the decreased cost and improved technology for such devices will result in more agencies using them as well.

These camera systems are constantly running and are able to unobtrusively capture images and compare the numbers to a database within a few seconds. When a match is made, an alarm will sound and the computer screen will display the license plate number, the name of registered owner, whether the car is suspected in a crime, and the direction the vehicle was heading when it was photographed.

While law enforcement agencies claim they make every effort to protect the information they collect, many are concerned about how the information is being stored and protected.

Lt. Kermit Stokes oversees the program for the Georgia Department of Public Safety and had the following to say, “It’s like any type of information or technology. There’s always going to be the potential for abuse. You have to have good procedures … and (be) mindful of what it’s for and how it’s used.”

The ACLU has voiced concerns about police agencies that use private companies instead of government agencies to store collected information. The ACLU also worries that collected information is being funneled to a national repository.

In Georgia, law enforcement has the authority to use the readers however they see fit. Automatic license plate readers have been banned in New Hampshire, while laws in Maine require the data to be purged within 21 days, unless it’s part of a criminal investigation. New Jersey law stipulates that information can only be kept for five years. The states of Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, and Michigan are considering laws that will limit the use of automatic license plate readers by law enforcement.

The national ACLU and state affiliates have been asking dozens of law enforcement agencies for exact details about the automatic license plate readers they use. In statements made to the media, the ACLU said, “Unfortunately, law enforcement agencies are increasingly moving towards a ‘keep everything, share widely’ formula concerning ALPR [automatic license plate reader] data. The biggest problem with ALPR systems is the creation of databases with location information on every motorist who encounters the system, not just those whom the government suspects of criminal activity. Police departments nationwide are using ALPR to quietly accumulate millions of plate records, storing them in back end databases. While the ACLU doesn’t know the full extent of this problem, the ACLU knows that responsible deletion of data is the exception, not the norm.”

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Have you been given a ticket or charged for crime after your license plate was scanned by law enforcement? If so, you should immediately contact our team of lawyers to get help defending your rights. We can review the details of your case and develop a strong legal strategy that will protect your interests. Let us fight for you.

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