On ALPR and Privacy

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ALPR data privacy concerns

Automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) has been under scrutiny from privacy watchdogs for years. Concerns range from capturing the vehicle information of people not involved in criminal activity, to ensuring the information isn’t used illegally (or at least illicitly), to determining whether the data is being retained and/or resold – and by whom. All are valid concerns – ones that PlateSmart has taken seriously since the beginning. We’ve built a commitment to privacy into our company as well as our products.

PlateSmart Lets You Monitor and Enforce Access via Comprehensive Auditing

Privacy advocates often express concern that ALPR could be misused by the very organizations or agencies using it. For example, those personnel could surreptitiously access the system for personal gain or for nefarious purposes, such as spying on a family member or stalking a love interest.

To address this issue, PlateSmart ARES® 3.0 enterprise-grade ALPR software allows administrators to limit access to authorized personnel only. Even better, though, is the software’s comprehensive auditing feature that allows administrators to review who has accessed the tool and how they have used it:

  • See who has logged in and out of ARES 3.0 and when.
  • Know when a login attempt has failed, so you can investigate possible unauthorized activity.
  • Identify what a user was searching for and when.
  • Determine if a user has altered any system configurations, including access privileges, watchlist settings, notification methods, and more.
  • Print and export audit details for further sharing and analysis.

By auditing access, not only can administrators ensure that access is limited to authorized users but they can answer any question that arises regarding who is using the ALPR software and for what.

The Data Belongs to the Customer – PlateSmart Neither Touches nor Resells It

Why are privacy advocates concerned that innocent citizens have their license plate and vehicle data captured by law enforcement authorities that use ALPR? Primarily, it’s because there are ALPR providers who themselves aggregate that data and later sell it to other third parties. If that sounds underhanded to you, please know that PlateSmart heartily agrees. It’s a practice that the company has been very vocally opposed to for many years, for a few reasons:

  • The search for persons of interest in a police investigation does result in the capture of a lot of vehicle information for a lot of innocent people – people who did nothing other than being out and about. Their vehicle information should not fall into the hands of any organization that might use it for who knows what purpose.
  • Companies selling vehicle data often choose not to purge old data. Instead, they grow their databases by continually adding to them. That old data might no longer even be accurate. Thus, it should not be provided to anyone under any circumstances.
  • Resellers of vehicle data are notoriously tight-lipped about where the data is stored and who had access to it. That makes the integrity of the data itself suspect. Is it being viewed by authorized personnel? Can the access be audited? Might the data have been altered at some point? Might it be at risk for theft? These remain valid concerns.

For these reasons, PlateSmart never touches a customer’s data. That means PlateSmart has no way of aggregating it even if we wanted to resell it, which we don’t. The data belongs to the customer, period.

A Word About Image Retention

Unfortunately, PlateSmart cannot control how long vehicle images and related data are retained by the user. However, many states have regulations in place that address this. Typically, it means that after the close of an investigation by law enforcement, the data must be purged within a given timeframe. Typically, it’s a short period of time akin to 90 days, but it does vary across jurisdictions.

While such regulations do not often address how long private organizations can retain the data, PlateSmart encourages its clients to develop a retention policy that is reasonable and as unintrusive as possible regarding privacy.

In any event, PlateSmart ARES has retention policy features that allow data to be purged after it has been retained for a particular period.

What is the lesson PlateSmart hopes you take away from this discussion? In short, do your homework on privacy concerns before you choose an ALPR provider. Even if you choose not to work with PlateSmart, please do work with an ethical company of high integrity.

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