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In less than a year, police dashboard cameras are scheduled for an upgrade, which will enable them to scan the license plate of many cars automatically. Automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) use artificial intelligence to scan three lanes of traffic simultaneously, CNET reports. While the technology is appealing for several reasons, some critics are raising ethics concerns.

Axon, the maker of ALPRs, says that it’s working on laying out the best practices, and the company is working on a plan for their devices to be used ethically. The dashcam tech will not only flag stolen vehicles, but it will also help in identifying people who have warrants. Some of the concerns being raised involve the storing of vehicle information in a database. Axon CEO and founder Rick Smith said in a press release:

“We do, however, recognize that there are legitimate concerns about privacy protections, constitutionality of search and data security issues that need to be addressed. We embrace that we have an ethical obligation to develop this technology thoughtfully and bring new privacy safeguards to the industry. While building ALPR, we’ll be addressing items such as data retention and data ownership, creating an ethical framework to help prevent misuse of the technology.” 

ALPRs and Racial Bias

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the leading nonprofit defending digital privacy, free speech, and innovation, conducted a study on ALPRs, according to the article. The research occurred in Oakland, California; the organization found that blacks and Latinos were more likely to be scanned by ALPRs.

The report highlights concerns that data collected by mass-surveillance could be used in improper ways. ALPRs do more than just scan license plates; they also can take pictures of vehicle passengers. Inaccurate ALPR alerts have also led to innocent people being apprehended at gunpoint.

“The impact of increased enforcement will not be felt equally across all communities. Typically, communities of color and lower income communities bear the brunt of increased enforcement,” the report said.

Last month, lawyers urged a California appeals court panel to rule the practice of tracking people’s location history and movements through ALPRs unconstitutional, Courthouse News Service reports. Jennifer Lynch, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said:

“It’s a warrantless search of a database that includes private and sensitive information about people.”

We will continue to follow the rollout of ALPRs in California law enforcement vehicles in the coming months, especially regarding privacy concerns. Police body cameras are a topic of interest, as well.

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