The next time you’re driving down the street and you see a police car a tow truck, or even an Uber vehicle, look to see if you notice little devices like you see on the top of this police car next to the lights. See these little boxes? These look like they’re signal lights but they’re not. These are actually cameras These are called ALPRs automated license plate readers, or automated license plate recognition. And what do they do? Well, they are cameras and they’re taking photos or videos of their surroundings, but they’re not really focusing on pictures and images of the vehicle. What they’re actually doing is reading the text on your license plate. For example, it’ll take photos like this. And if you just looked at a picture you know you as a human can say 7XXB682, but a photo in a computer isn’t the same as text. What these cameras are doing is taking this photo in decoding license plates into the actual text. Once that’s done, it can create a database of all the places where that license plate has been seen. Date, timestamp, location, GPS. Right. So ALPRs are very common. Where are they used and what is done with the data? 

Well, The first thing to keep in mind is these ALPRs can be anywhere. You might think, well they’re on police cars but they’re also on traffic cameras. They’re also on tow trucks and Uber cars. They may also be on gate entrances to subdivisions or gated entrances to parking lots. And the reason why is that sometimes they’re used for billing, for example, tollbooth cameras get your license plate and put it into a database to charge you a toll. Right. The reason that they are on police cars is so this police car can be driving down the street, and the police officer in that vehicle the law enforcement officer does not have to type in every car that they see to check if it’s stolen if the person’s wanted, if the registration is expired, they could just drive down the street. The cameras can ingest all the license plates that it sees. That’s why, if you notice in that photo they’re on all four corners of the car. It can see the ones coming at them the ones behind them the ones in other lanes. The computer can read these plates, hundreds of thousands at a time. Thousands in a minute. And automatically check each one of those license plate numbers instantly. If one of them pops up as a hit, stolen car, wanted driver, expired registration, expired insurance, etc. then it can put a notice on the screen for that police officer to say Hey, that red Honda you drove by a minute ago is a stolen car. Right. And then it’ll flash on the screen where it was in what direction and then they’ll show a picture of it. The police officer can drive their car and can check out what they’re doing on patrol and let the computer do all the work for checking the license plates. 

Why would a tow truck have that on their vehicle? Well, tow trucks have databases that are connected to cars that are out for repossession. If you are a repossession company in the old days it used to be, well the bank would call you up and say, Joe Schmo didn’t pay his car loan, he’s got a red Honda, here’s the plate number go pick it up at their house. Well, nowadays people who are out for repossession hide their cars they put them in the garage. They put it in the backyard put it behind the gate. So it’s hard to repossess vehicles. So now what happens is the tow truck driver as they’re driving they’re not running every plate. They have an ALPR just like the police. If a car drives by that’s out for repo boom pops up on their screen. And they can follow that car to where it parks at this grocery store, at a mall at a shopping center, at their employment, and just go pick it up cause it’s outside. So ALP ours can be used that way. 

Uber drivers can make some extra money by putting the repossession data computers in their vehicles. Now they can’t repossess the car, but now that the bank knows where this car is driving, it gives them an idea of where they can maybe send a tow truck to go pick it up. Back to law enforcement. Law enforcement uses this for tracking now at the same time, even if a car is not wanted not stolen. It could be used to help solve crimes. If there’s a crime that occurs in a certain place, there’s a shooting, a robbery, or an assault and they need witnesses. What they’ll do is they’ll go back and rewind their ALPR to that place that location or nearby and find all the cars that are ingressing or egressing that location and maybe those people have a dash cam. Maybe they saw something and you’ll get contacted. So automated license plate readers are a way for many agencies to identify where cars were at a certain time.

Now there are a lot of privacy issues with this. A lot of privacy organizations are against using ALPRs because of the fact that it could be used for tracking somebody’s location without their knowledge. And there are a lot of court cases that have been fought and are still being fought about this. Tell us what your thoughts are about the use of this technology. What about access to a subdivision? Some gated communities only allow access to certain license plates unless you have somebody buzz you in. That may be something that is a legitimate use but there still could be privacy issues for that use as well. Now, what about the private sector? Well as a private citizen, there’s no reason in most cases you couldn’t get an ALPR, put it on your house, put it on a street corner, or put it on your business and just track every car that drives by. That would be a way to know everyone’s license plates. Now you wouldn’t be able to look up the owner, but it would be a way to get some demographics possibly on a business area. 

At the same time, there are some companies that sell records of license plates that were shown at a certain location. Private investigators, insurance companies, and repair shops can use this information to know where vehicles are located. In fact, some insurance companies are using this to process claims. If you are insured on your vehicle and you have a garaging address let’s say 12 main street in Salt Lake City, Utah, where there are low insurance rates, but they see that your car is always being used in Miami, Florida, they’re going to ask well why is your car in Miami Florida if you’re supposedly living in Salt Lake City Utah? So if you have a crash in Miami Florida, they might say well we deny your claim because you said it was garaged in Salt Lake City Utah but in reality, it’s in Miami Florida, right? So this technology has a lot of uses and a lot of future uses to track vehicles. It’s almost like GPS with the number of cameras that are out there right now, everywhere you drive you’re going to drive by a camera at some point. If any of these cameras are ALPR cameras, now your location and your identity are known, and that can be mixed with many other things. If somebody at a shopping center puts it at their entrance, now they know all the shoppers and all the customers of their shopping center. So let us know what your thoughts are. How does this affect you? One other thing to keep in mind is if you are using some registration from another state for an advantage, save taxes, maybe some states don’t have as stringent of inspection, s lot of people that are living in California registered their cars elsewhere because California has severe smog and inspection laws, and maybe you want to register somewhere else, ALPRs are used to defeat this. So be aware that this may be a covert hidden way that the government’s finding out where and when you are, even without your knowledge.

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