When does a license plate camera count as a violation of liberty?
When you hear the words “mass surveillance,” you probably think of Edward Snowden’s revelations that the NSA tracks everything we do online. However, such surveillace may not be our greatest concern. Jonathan Hofer, a research associate at the Independent Institute, notes that the most prolific tool of mass surveillance is in fact automated license plate readers (ALPRs).
His report on the worrisome new technology caught my attention, and I wanted to learn more. What I didn’t know when I invited him on my show is that Hofer himself was the victim of an error in the vast, byzantine database that law enforcement uses to link license plate numbers with suspected criminals.
Listen to find out how Hofer ended up with his rental car being surrounded by half a dozen patrol cars, before being tackled to the ground by an armed police officer in a dark parking lot on a cold November night (Spoiler alert: he wasn’t guilty).
While the presence of cameras on the roads may not seem like a threat to our liberties, Hofer’s personal story, and the countless other similar anecdotes he relays, should give us pause about adopting such technology given the propensity for serious “user error.”
Read the report and listen now to understand the legal, ethical, and constitutional issues at play.
The Pitfalls of Law Enforcement License Plate Readers in California and Safeguards to Protect the Public | Jonathan Hofer
Contents Overview Background Stops Gone Wrong What Does an ALPR Capture?
Automated License Plate Readers, the Mosaic Theory, and the Fourth Amendment
One of the fascinating questions raised by the United States Supreme Court's 2018 decision in Carpenter v. United States is how the Fourth Amendment applies to government use of automated license-plate readers (ALPRs) and the querying of ALPR databases. Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court handed down what I believe is the first appellate decision on the question, Commonwealth v.