Saturday, August 2, 2008

Cruiser Top Cameras Scan License Plates of All Passing Drivers

First there were Red Light Cameras. Then came speed cameras. Now the Washington Post has reported on the use of new Cruiser-Topped-Cameras which scan the license plate of every passing car looking for stolen vehicles, but also for suspended tags. Vehicle registrations can be suspended due to failure to pay traffic or parking tickets, failure to pass emission inspections, failure to pay speed camera tickets or simply an owner's forgetfulness. Drivers whose registration is suspended can be pulled over on the spot and issued a $140 fine.

The ACLU was unhappy upon hearing this. "What it illustrates is how the technologies for surveillance have developed at the speed of light, but the law that controls how those technologies can be used is still back in the Stone Age," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's technology and liberty program. "We've got to develop some rules of the road here to protect our privacy."

There is currently no law governing this system, because license plates are out in the open and not considered private. "This is one of the situations where people think surely, there's a law that governs this," Steinhardt said. "Well, there aren't laws."

Such technologies are likely to become much more common. "It's a glimpse into the future," said Steinhardt. "It won't take long before these things become pervasive, and the one thing we know about technology is it gets more advanced and cheaper as time goes on."