All of that data doesn’t just disappear. It’s stored in the police department’s servers and can be pulled up later if someone contests a parking ticket. It can also be used by detectives to locate suspects. Sgt. Sean Whitcomb says that rarely happens unless public safety is at risk.
It also raises privacy concerns. The ACLU of Washington doesn’t object to the use of the technology, but Communications Director Doug Honig said keeping the data for 90 days is too long.
Honig said license plate data bases, which can show where a car is parked at a certain time day after day, make it far too easy to track a person’s movements. “Do they go to an AA meeting every week? Do they go to a shooting range? Do they go to a certain place of worship? Do they go to a political meeting? If you’re not suspected of a crime, it’s really none of the government’s business to be gathering and keeping this information,” said Honig.
The ACLU is asking the legislature to study the issue and come up with laws limiting how long police departments can keep the data and how they can use it.
SPD has more than a million license plates in its data base at any given time. And there could soon be a lot more.
The police department wants to give every one of its nearly 100 Parking Enforcement Officers a hand held license plate scanner. Instead of chalking tires the old fashioned way, PEO’s would scan plates, then return later to find out if a car has exceeded the posted time limit.
Whitcomb said the Seattle Police Department has no interest in tracking people’s movements and isn’t out to spy on anyone. “We’re not big brother,” he said, “We’re just trying to keep the community safe.”