Protecting the privacy of all citizens is hardly a radical notion, as Steve Delbianco suggests in a recent Boston Herald column. People who have done nothing wrong, and who are not accused or suspected of anything have a right to be left alone and not have their movements tracked - by their government, or by private, for-profit enterprises.
License plate reader collection has the ability to sweep up massive amounts of data on people minding their own business, driving down the highway or parked by the street. All that data is collected and stored without their knowledge or permission.
While there are legitimate purposes for these systems like locating fugitives, and identifying stolen cars, the negative implications are obvious, when it comes to the ability to do a historical search on previous license hits, months or years before. So obvious that some towns like Brookline have prudently put strict limitations on how long that data can be stored, who has access to it, and who it is shared with.
Yes, identities are theoretically not associated with names, but it is easy to get someone’s license plate and do some digging into their known travel habits.
It’s even worse with private license plate data collectors. I’m sure very few people would think it is a good idea for this data to be for sale to anyone.
Should I be able to pay a few bucks to an online data broker and search for my neighbor's license plate, and find out where his car has been spotted for the last 6 months? Interesting, I didn’t know he belonged to that church, or went to that bar regularly…
Most Americans would be horrified if it were that easy to track them, and rightly so. So I would submit that anyone who is paying attention would be calling for explicit restrictions on the ever increasing surveillance state.
Russell Matson is a criminal defense lawyer in Braintree, MA. His website is http://www.madrunkdrivingdefense.com