LSP: license plate readers help greatly, pose no privacy threat

POSTED: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - 11:18pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - 11:18pm

The Louisiana State Police is defending its use of technology that helps it track suspicious cars.

It obtained a license plate scanning system roughly a year ago through a grant. Detectives say the system helps them solve cases. But some people call them a violation of our right to privacy.

The LSP says the scanners collect only the most basic information and notify an officer only if the license plate in question had been flagged.

"You know, this car, at this date, at this location, passed through this area," according to Cpt. Doug Cain.

Cain asserts the driver's face is never included in the pictures it takes.

The LSP would not show NBC33 the license plate readers or give many details about them to protect their secrecy. Some are attached to police cars, and some are placed in what the LSP calls "strategic locations."

"It's also important to know that we do purge the information, it's not something that's stored for a long period of time," Cain stated. "Unless there's a criminal nexus, that information is purged."

Detectives have used them to do more than find stolen cars or hunt down robbery suspects.

"Just as importantly, missing persons," Cain said, "whether it be a senior citizen with dementia who went missing, or certainly a child in an Amber Alert situation."

But many people believe the scanner require them to give up too much of their liberty. They think there is no reason for a license plate to be run through the system without probable cause, and they do not want the police knowing what they are doing at all times.

Others, though, believe there is nothing to fear.

"Not at all," said Michal Evans. "You shouldn't have to be, you shouldn't be worried if you didn't do anything!

"I feel like it's a great cause, because your car might come up stolen, and you might not know about it. And they could track it down for you, so I feel like it's a lot of help."

Cain said the LSP understands people's concerns about privacy. Without the ability to show what the scanners do or do not collect, it is asking the public to trust that the system allows officers to do the job we expect of them better than before.

"When you're in a fugitive/manhunt situation," Cain said, "if you're looking for a missing child, if you can pinpoint an area that the violator may be in, and you can steer your resources to that area, it's gonna make us more efficient, it's gonna make us more effective, and ultimately it's gonna make the public safer."

Cain added that the license plate readers should not be construed as Big Brother-style monitoring of our lives.

"Certainly this is an extra tool for our toolbox," he said. "In police work, we're all about tools; whether it's the cars that we have and the equipment contained within them; whether it's license plate readers; whether it's our fusion center; whether it's the stuff we carry on our gun belt; they're all tools we use to keep the public safe."

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