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Big Brother is Scanning: The Widespread Implementation of ALPR Technology in America’s Police Forces

Posted by on Saturday, June 25, 2022 in Notes, Volume 24, Volume 24, Issue 4.

Yash Dattani | 24 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. L. 749 (2022)

Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPRs) are an increasingly popular tool in police departments across the United States. At its core, ALPR technology functions in a relatively simple manner. The technology has two major components: the actual scanners, which record license plates, and the databases which collect, compile, and analyze this information for officers to access at the click of a button. Although this technology first came to the United States in 1998 as a form of rudimentary border security, its purpose and capabilities have rapidly grown. Now, in 2022, ALPR has evolved into a frighteningly powerful piece of technology, potentially capable of creating a system of mass government surveillance and chilling various constitutional protections. This Note acknowledges that this technology has bolstered the police’s ability to fight crime, but argues that its use must be limited through appropriate judicial action and regulatory measures to protect the privacy of all US citizens.

This Note proposes the following reforms to address this issue: (1) a shift in the way the judiciary permits ALPR technology to be used by police; (2) new federal legislation to limit the aggregation and retention of this data; and (3) the creation of a federal agency to monitor ALPR databases. While some academics have proposed a new evidentiary standard within the judicial process and are creating federal legislation to better address the threats posed by ALPR, this Note’s solution specifically ensures that this technology does not infringe on the constitutional rights of US citizens and the information collected is properly stored.

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