New Tracking Frontier: Your License Plates


Julia Angwin and Jennifer Valentino-Devries
Wall Street Journal
September 29, 2012


License plate recognition vehicle

The rise of license-plate tracking is a case study in how storing and studying people’s everyday activities, even the seemingly mundane, has become the default rather than the exception. Cellphone-location data, online searches, credit-card purchases, social-network comments and more are gathered, mixed-and-matched, and stored in vast databases.

[...] Data about a typical American is collected in more than 20 different ways during everyday activities, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. Fifteen years ago, more than half of these types of surveillance tools were unavailable or not in widespread use, says Col. Lisa Shay, a professor of electrical engineering at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who studies tracking.

[...] A report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police warns that “recording driving habits” could raise First Amendment concerns. It noted that plate readers might record “vehicles parked at addiction-counseling meetings, doctors’ offices, health clinics, or even staging areas for political protests.” The association urged members to consider establishing “more specific criteria for granting access” to the information and to designate it only for “official use.”

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