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Due to the spread of affordable ITS products, such as license plate recognition cameras, United States police departments have been able to amass huge databases on the movements of millions of Americans over months, and years. An American Union Civil Liberties Report, which was published in 2013, claims that after petitioning the government, the ACLU received a 26,000 page document detailing the use of ANPR technologies in the U.S.

ANPR, or automatic number plate recognition, is an ITS product, which has a wide variety of uses including enforcing speed limits, automatically tolling vehicles on toll roads, and even securing the entrance of restricted vehicles for high-level government facilities. The license plate readers are typically mounted by the highway, or on top of a patrol car. ANPR can identify vehicles almost instantly, and then compare the license plate numbers to databases, which include stolen cars.

However, ANPR data is often stored for various amounts of time. The amount of time depends upon in which city or jurisdiction that the data was captured. However, many jurisdictions share data. For example, the city of Milpitas, California lacks a clear ANPR data policy. The small city has a total population of 67,000 people, and stores ANPR data on 4.7 million license plate reads. Compare this with the state of Minnesota, which deletes reads after 48 hours. The city of Jersey City, New Jersey, on the other hand, stores ANPR data for up to 5 years, and has over 10 million license plate reads in their system at any given time. As you can see, ITS products can be used in many different ways, depending on which authority is using them. The ACLU report warns that this stored data could potentially be abused by various authorities. “Using [this ANPR data] to develop vast troves of information on where Americans travel is not an appropriate use,” said Catherine Crump, who serves as a lawyer at the ACLU , and also co-authored the aforementioned ACLU report.

One area of the U.S. that uses ITS products like ANPR quite frequently is Washington, D.C. Due to fear over potential terrorist threats, much of the funding for ANPR equipment actually stems from federal grants. Agreements between various divisions allow for inter-departmental sharing of ANPR data in Washington, and this data is usually kept for at least a year. Authorities claim that by keeping this data it allows them to better construct crimes, as needed. David J. Roberts, who works as the senior program manager for the Technology Center of the Association of Chiefs of Police stated, “We’d like to be able to keep the data as long as possible, because it does provide a rich and enduring data set for investigations down the line.”

According to the ACLU, one out of every 500 plate reads in Washington, D.C. registered a hit, but those hits were often for minor traffic violations or infractions. In Maryland for every million plates read, 47 of those were associated with serious crimes. Many other jurisdictions across the United States were surveyed by the ACLU, which found average hits on license plate readings to be below 1%. This brings up a lot of questions for the ITS industry, in regards to ITS products such as license plate cameras. We’ll continue to provide coverage as the debate continues.