“LPR Invades Privacy” is the chant of many following a report issued earlier this week and widely recirculated in the media. Fortunately, many informed readers will know that this is simply not the case.

It all comes down to a couple of simple statements of FACT.

  1. A license plate contains no personal information. It is only through additional investigative effort and using other law enforcement systems, under permissible purposes, that an investigator may make this link. An LPR record contains only the text of the plate, date/time, and location coordinates. After explaining this to a a national news media outlet, they responded that people should be much more concerned about the information gathered on them from Facebook, credit card transactions, and frequent shopper programs.
  2. There are already legal rulings that uphold the use of LPR. Various courts have upheld that a) there is no reasonable expectation of privacy when traveling in public, and b) LPR does nothing more than officers have done manually for many years, and does not violate one’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search.

In spite of some of these facts, some still maintain that LPR invades privacy. The claims of exactly “how” LPR invades your privacy are not rational. Here are the primary elements of the “privacy” argument along with a rational and factual response to each:

  1. Police can use LPR data to track the movements of innocent civilians. Simply put, LPR data is not linked to individuals – it is only a license plate and nothing more. LPR can not be used to “track” anyone without an officer, with permissible purpose, using other systems to link an individual to a vehicle license plate. In many cases, these other systems that contain personal data are governed by additional policies and/or laws. And, even under permissible purpose, once this connection is made for use in an investigation, LPR use is audited for every query, including a field to capture the case number related to the query.
  2. Data that doesn’t match a law enforcement database is useless and should be immediately deleted. The “matches” in the field, while important, do not compare to the types of major cases being solved through the use of collected data. Major crimes often take a great deal of planning, and the historical information on suspects (not civilians) can be very helpful in locating and apprehending dangerous individuals. Literally thousands of major crimes have been solved using LPR data including terrorism, homicide, rape, kidnapping, identity theft and much more. Many of these violent crimes do not have statutes of limitations, and those that do are measured in years – why then, would any responsible individual call for immediate deletion of data that could help solve these crimes?

Take a look at the below video. A family in Missouri calls LPR “a blessing” in bringing their son’s murderers to justice – both of which are now serving a life sentence.

In a blog post last week describing how LPR data helped solve a violent rape case, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) called for responsible policies for use, not legislation, and stated that “agencies must have the freedom to use tools that can aid in their efforts to keep their communities safe.”