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ACLU Raises Privacy Concerns Over Providence License Plate Scanning Plan

Posted: October 07, 2011|Category: Privacy

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The RI ACLU has urged the Providence City Council to reject a proposal by Mayor Angel Taveras to authorize a private company to use car-mounted license-plate scanners to enforce overnight parking laws. The proposal, part of the Mayor’s plan for a permanent overnight parking permit program, would authorize a private vendor to use specially-equipped vehicles to automatically scan license plates, checking them against a registration database and flagging those cars parked overnight without a permit.

In a letter sent Thursday to the City Council, the ACLU said that the scanners were “unnecessary” and raised “significant privacy and other concerns.” The letter stated: “The use of car-mounted license plate scanners, particularly when an officer or traffic-enforcement official is easily capable of looking for a sticker in a window, represents another step towards increased focus on surveillance and recording the movements of individuals.”

The letter questioned whether “any significant discussions of controls” had occurred to protect the private motor vehicle information that the company would have access to, or to limit retention, storage or dissemination of the images captured by the scanners. The letter also called it “inappropriate for a private company to receive a portion of the revenues gained from overnight parking penalties, as it provides an incentive to encourage parking violations instead of minimizing their occurrence.”

The Mayor has touted the proposal as a way to raise money, but the ACLU pointed out that when Providence instituted red light camera ticketing, the City lost almost one million dollars in the first two years of the program, with much of the revenue going directly to the company maintaining the equipment. The ACLU concluded: “The urge to use the newest technology is tempting, but automated licensed plate readers simply place too much data mining power in the hands of private vendors and those who breach their systems.”

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