Police will soon be able to track anywhere you drive in the US

License plate readers are highly effective expertise that permit police to maintain observe of a automobile’s motion throughout a metropolis. 

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Police typically depend on computerized license plate readers to trace the motion of vehicles of their jurisdiction. A surveillance firm’s new initiative seems to be to broaden these capabilities nationwide. 

On Tuesday, Flock Security, which makes a license plate reader, introduced the “Total Analytics Law Officers Network,” or TALON. The community seems to be to attach the 400 legislation enforcement businesses utilizing its cameras, permitting businesses that decide in to view digicam information from different areas. 

The corporate stated it has cameras in 700 cities, primarily making a nationwide digicam community for monitoring automobile actions in the event that they’re all linked. 

License plate readers are a robust surveillance software, elevating privateness considerations for folks driving on public streets. Paperwork obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in March 2019 confirmed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents used license plate readers to trace folks’s actions, accessing a database that logs 150 million to 200 million scans each month.  

An Digital Frontier Basis research in 2015 additionally discovered that Black and Latino residents were more likely to be scanned by license plate readers, elevating considerations about racial injustice concerning the surveillance expertise. 

License plate readers are like facial recognition for vehicles: The cameras are skilled to choose up the codes on the again of your car, and log the time and placement. Like facial recognition, license plate readers are additionally susceptible to errors.

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In early August, Aurora police blamed a faulty license plate reader for misidentifying a vehicle as stolen, which led to officers holding a Black family, with children as young as 6, at gunpoint. 

Flock Safety has also faced criticism from privacy experts for its consumer offers — where residents in richer neighborhoods in at least 30 states pay up to $2,000 a camera to track cars that pass through their communities. 

The technology is also used by repossession companies and by landlords who don’t want unauthorized cars parking in their lots. 

For police, the tech offers the capability to track cars throughout the day without ever stepping out the door. The cameras log license plates as they move through neighborhoods, and could potentially mark people at sensitive locations like a mental health facility or a religious institution, in addition to spotting those with outstanding traffic tickets or warrants. 

With TALON, Flock Safety wants to provide that capability across the entire country, meaning police in one state could track a car’s movements as it goes hundreds of miles away. In a blog post announcing the network, Flock Safety detailed how a police killing in Georgia had been solved because of license plate readers set up along the gunman’s escape route to Alabama. 


Flock Safety said it was able to track a suspect driving through Georgia and Alabama after he drive past 100 license plate readers, marked by the blue dots.

Flock Safety

The network works when someone types in a license plate number and gets returns back on where cameras may have scanned the car. Only police departments that have opted in to the network can return results, and they can opt to provide data to nearby jurisdictions or to an entire nationwide database. 

“TALON is an easier, more transparent way for law enforcement agencies to share the critical information needed to fight crime,” Garrett Langley, Flock Safety’s CEO, said in a statement. 

The crowdsourcing model is similar to that of Amazon’s Ring, a video doorbell company that’s partnered with more than 1,400 police departments and allows law enforcement agencies to request footage on a massive scale

This model often circumvents public input — your city council may be able to vote on what surveillance tools are in your communities, but now that same data could be given to police in other states. 

“We often think of dystopian surveillance as something that’s imposed by an authoritarian government,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of the digital rights group Fight for the Future. “It’s clearer every day that there is an enormous threat posed by privately owned and managed surveillance regimes, which will be weaponized by the rich and powerful to protect not just their wealth but the exploitative system that helped them amass it.”

The capability to track any car driving across the US brings up concerns of abuse. In 1998, a police lieutenant in Washington, DC, used license plate readers near a gay bar to blackmail the car owners. In March 2019, prosecutors said a Florida cop used his access to the department’s database to get dates, calling at least 150 women with the information he’d gathered since 2012. 

Flock Safety said its national network is designed with an “ethical framework” that protects privacy. It has requirements like data automatically deleting after 30 days and footage being encrypted as a security measure. 

But there are aspects of its guidelines that can’t be enforced, like cities using the network only after extensive public input or after ensuring that officers aren’t abusing the technology. 

“We are not a governing body that can hold individual officers responsible in the same way that a legislative body could or should,” a Flock Safety spokesman said.

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Alfred Ng