License Plate Recognition is a surveillance technique using cameras and optical character recognition to read the numbers and letters on a license plate. All vehicle owners need to be aware of license plate recognition (“LPR”) technology and it’s growing use by both the public and private sectors.
The National Post published an interesting article about LPR in July 2014. The article, “You are Being Tracked: How Cities use License-Plate Scanners to Create Vast Databases of Vehicle Sightings” is written by Douglas Quan. Although the article focuses on the City of Calgary, the technology is now in use throughout North America in a city near you.
Privacy issue is a concern
The article describes how the City of Calgary parking enforcement equips their officers with cameras designed to scan licence plates and identify cars. The data collected includes a photo and the time and location the vehicle is identified. The city retains all this data.
A scanned plate is checked against the database to confirm parking payment is made. The police also access the database to search for stolen cars. This raises privacy concerns in that your movements are being monitored, stored, and still accessible years later. Many police cars are fitted with LPR technology and scan thousands of license plates a day.
Cities have installed fixed cameras to track vehicle movements. This means that the amount of time you are being monitored is increased. Furthermore, digital roadside signs that post your vehicle speed might also be tracking you (read this article for more on this surprising aspect).
Questions raised about retaining data
There is no consistency in Canada as to how long license plate data is retained nor who the data is shared with. Some say the entire system requires more oversight.
Private companies use the technology to scan licence plates for their own use and possibly share information with police or other commercial enterprises. Some of these enterprises have already amassed databases with over one billion vehicle sightings.
LPR is here to stay
License plate recognition is here to stay. It has some social benefits, such as indentifying a stolen car or help in finding a missing person. On the other hand, there is particular concern about the long term retention of your data revealing when and where you have been travelling.
Progression with this technology is evolving in other ways. In China, some cities now use face recognition technology to track people. So even those without cars may have confidentiality issues in the future.
Windshieldink is a license plate messaging platform that lets you assign an email address to a license plate. We’re looking at ways to use LPR to your benefit. We know we’re unknowingly being scanned. As vehicle owners, we might as well get some value from it. We’ll keep you updated on our developments.
We’re interested in hearing from you. Send your comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.