Police use of IT: Your car is being watched

Licence plate readers

In the US, both police forces and private companies are using cheap technology mounted on cars to scan and record thousands of licence plates every day. Cameras on cars capture images of oncoming traffic, parallel traffic, and even cars parked at the side of roads. Number recognition systems then scan the images for licence plate numbers, which are collated in a central database. An interesting result of ever-cheapening storage is that police forces can now store this this data virtually indefinitely in huge databases for only a few cents per gigabyte. The information can then be used to generate alerts when suspect vehicles are seen.

The video below from the Wall Street Journal explains how this data is collected and how it is used. The point where one of the ‘victims’ of the system – an entirely innocent citizen – requests his data from the system and sees he has been recorded over 100 times, is truly worrying.

These technologies raise many social and ethical issues related to the ITGS course – including those related to privacy, surveillance, mass data use and protection, and the role of the police in capturing this data. Comments such as “this data might be useful in the future to solve future cases” offer many avenues for discussion.

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