Every time we give up control of something to others – be they government entities, corporations (one and the same), or machines – we risk one day being prohibited from having control of it in the future. In this way, our technology is a double-edged sword. We realize greater efficiency and convenience today, but at what cost tomorrow? ALPR is coming to a city near you. Are you ready?
What is ALPR?
Automatic License Plate Recognition. Police departments and municipalities across the globe are beginning to implement this technology. It won’t be long before you start to see police and emergency vehicles in your town with cameras fitted to their roofs. As these vehicles prowl the streets, the cameras scan every license plate they pass, thousands per hour – at speed differentials up to 160mph (257kph) – comparing them with a central database automatically.
Why are they doing this?
There are plenty of good reasons to do this. PIPS Technology is a leading provider of this technology. According to their brochure for ALPR (pdf), these systems are used to:
- identify suspended or revoked drivers
- assist in stolen vehicle recovery
- monitor schools for sexual predators
- assist in Amber Alerts (missing children)
Other reasons mentioned on in the brochure sound good, but might make some folks a little nervous:
- witness identification, watch list development, pattern recognition
- identify delinquent citations for revenue enforcement
How is this grounds for concern?
Making the lives of law enforcement easier is something we should all appreciate. After all, these folks are sworn to protect us at home, while dealing with the absolute worst our society has to offer on a daily basis. If a little technology can help them be more efficient and relaxed in their duties, we all stand to benefit.
We all want suspended/revoked drivers off the road. We all want a virtual net cast out when our vehicles are stolen. We want sexual predators nowhere near our schools. We all want children returned home safe and sound as quickly as possible. But where is the line drawn between protection and freedom? Our friend Kris pointed this hypothetical situation:
Where it gets tricky is the police see a pattern where your car is outside a known drug dealers house, and they apply for and get a warrant to search YOUR home. Because they have 4 years of data showing that every Saturday you let your cousin drive over to see his mom and you had no idea your Aunt lived next to a felon.
Some municipalities are already using this technology to issue tickets to people with expired tags or insurance. It’s like red light and speed cameras, only now the cameras are on the move. (Although the PIPS site offers fixed cameras for “continuous monitoring of high traffic areas,” too.) How long before this turns into a revenue-generating scheme for state and local governments like the other camera installations?
What it looks like in action.
Here’s a video where Arcadia, California, Police talk about how the system works, how they use it, and how they are thinking about using it.
- What do you think of this technology?
- How do we balance the benefits with the risks?
Hat tip to Kris for the video. All images this post courtesy PIPStechnology.com.