April 1st of this year, Hon. Robert J. Smith of Nineteenth Judicial Circuit Of Virginia issued a ruling that automatic licenses plate readers were illegal for law enforcement to use in “passive use”. I am entirely in support of Judge Smith’s ruling. Xeni Jardin writing for boing boing has more thoughts on the specifics of the ruling.
ALPR systems, at least in Virginia, catalog all licenses plates that they see, which can be 3600 per minute, and are recorded for one year, including the circumstances of where the license plate was recorded (time and location). This happens regardless if you are a hardened criminal or on the way to the grocery store for some bread. Your travel has been documented and will be retained. This is an impedes an American’s right to freely travel.
I have read a few defenders of the ALPR’s argue for the quick finding of their stolen vehicles, but, as far as me, I’m not willing to sacrifice my freedoms for the safety of my car. More vocal arguments are for the quick finding of violent offenders with outstanding warrants. See my previous argument for my thoughts on this one as well. The state police’s hot list married with the Virginian ALPR system does not seem to make a distinction between people who have a warrant because they murdered a dozen people or people who have a warrant because they didn’t show up for jury duty, at least I wasn’t able to find a published piece of information stating otherwise. The ruling did not seem to challenge the “active use” of ALPR’s, but I would. As I’ve parroted Moxie Marlinspike in the past: law enforcement should be hard. Automating law enforcement strips liberties and freedoms from the citizenry.
And for further reading on this survellience state technology, please see Joseph Cox, Caroline Haskins, and Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai’s article for Motherboard: Hackers Breach Company That Makes License Plate Readers for U.S. Government.