Comments on Automatic License Plate Recognition Goes Mobile
The police can now check up to 3,000 license plates per hour as they cruise down the road. (Read
the complete story)
|"I found an interesting case from about four months ago in Farmington Hills, Michigan.
When an officer was driving around a local shopping center, he noticed a white van idling in the lane closest to the stores. A man was inside and the lane was marked with "Fire Lane" and "No Parking" signs.
The database search showed that the vehicle was registered to a man who had an outstanding felony warrant. The officer called for backup, approached the van and arrested the driver. During the arrest, the driver was found to have two firearms. He was later indicted for being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of federal law.
The trial judge ruled, however, that the van was not parked illegally and therefore the officer did not have probable cause to run the database check of the van's license plate.
The U.S. Attorney's office appealed, saying that Americans have no reasonable expectation of privacy in their license-plate numbers, and therefore police need no probable cause to conduct computer checks.
In a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel from the 6th Circuit agreed. They said that "a motorist has no reasonable expectation of privacy in the information contained on his license plate under the Fourth Amendment...The very purpose of a license plate number, like that of a Vehicle Identification Number, is to provide identifying information to law enforcement officials and others."
In a dissent, however, Judge Karen Nelson Moore said the U.S. Attorney raised the argument at a late stage and it should be rejected. Without more information collected by the trial judge, such as how much information on the general public is available on the database system, Moore said, it's impossible to evaluate how intrusive the computer check is.
Moore said that the key point was not whether police could read someone's license plate but under what circumstances they could perform an extensive search of computer databases. She said the FBI's National Crime Information Center system contains more than 23 million records about people and vehicles--not all accurate or up-to-date--and "allowing the information contained therein to form the basis for a seizure without any other heightened suspicion, let alone probable cause, compounds the risk of privacy intrusions that errors in these databases impose."
(Bill Christensen 2/12/2007 8:13:13 PM)
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