HPD plans to use license plate reading technology

HPD plans to use license plate reading technology
Published: Jul. 31, 2013 at 10:31 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 31, 2013 at 10:47 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After one unsuccessful attempt Honolulu Police plan to try again to use cameras capable of reading multiple license plates a second.

Police Department's in other cities across the country say the technology has helped recover stolen cars and catch wanted criminals. But opponents say it also catches too much information.

Lynn Anderson hasn't had much luck with cars. In the last year her 1996 Honda Accord has been stolen twice. The most recent case came two weeks ago. She is getting around in a rental car now but the whole thing has been a pain.

"It's pretty bad especially since we might be moving in the next six months so it's hard for us to get a car for the next six months and it's a pain to deal with your insurance company," said Anderson.

Honolulu Police plan to get new technology designed to help stolen car victims get their vehicle back. The Automated License Plate Recognition cameras are capable of scanning thousands of license plates a day and will alert the officer if the car is stolen or if the owner has a warrant or suspended license.

"That sounds like a good idea especially here because if somebody steals a car it's not getting driven over state lines, it's going to stay on the island so if they're driving around it would give them a better chance at finding the car," said Anderson.

HPD already started using one last year, but three months later it was damaged beyond repair. Now the Department is buying more and will have them in use again within a year.

However the ACLU has privacy concerns because the system also collects data on where people go and how often they frequent places which the ACLU says is a violation since the overwhelming majority of cars are not part of a crime.

"I think it would be better if as they're driving around and they're collecting the information if nothing comes up then it would just dump your information and only save the plates that something is flagged for," said Anderson. "If they are going to try and get the public interested in that they should be very clear on what their policy is going to be in terms of the data they are taking."

HPD is still working on its policy on how long data will be kept and what it will do with it. But it does say it will not share the information with anyone.

As for Lynn Anderson's stolen car, she isn't holding out much hope she'll get it back again.

"It's been twice as long as the last time so probably not," said Anderson.

The Kauai, Maui and Hawaii County Police Departments say they do not use the license plate scanning technology and have no plans to start anytime soon.

Below is the full written statement from Vanessa Chong, ACLU of Hawaii Executive Director:

"The ACLUʻs concerns are the same whenever government plans to use surveillance technology like Automated License Plate Recognition ("ALPR") in public spaces. Government cannot have policies which amount to fishing expeditions, spying on law-abiding individuals in order to find the guilty few.

Government use of dragnet and open-ended surveillance can become surveillance that's permanent. Such surveillance can have little or no effect or benefit to public safety all the while violating fundamental rights to privacy.

The trend around the county is to use technology with too few rules --- and is becoming a tool for mass routine location tracking and surveillance. License plate readers can serve a legitimate law enforcement purpose when they alert police to the location of a car associated with a criminal investigation. But such cases make up a tiny fraction of license plate scans, and too many police departments are storing millions of records about innocent drivers.

Before Hawaii again rushes to put law-abiding individuals under constant surveillance, the public must be reassured about police policies and procedures governing this technology. Questions that need to be answered:

• What checks and balances are in place to both protect public safety and our right to privacy?

• Who has access to these images and why do they have access? The public? Law enforcement? Military? Insurance companies?

• Will these images be stored? Why? Where, and for how long? How secure is this storage?

Hawaii hopefully learned from the "Van Cam" fiasco of the 1990's - mass surveillance of Honolulu drivers to ticket speeders - which the public shut down because of its poorly thought out methods and wasteful spending of precious taxpayer dollars.

Furthermore, don't abandon proven methods - like a highly trained, professional and visible police presence in our community - which better protects everyone's fundamental rights."

Follow Tim Sakahara:   

Copyright 2013 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.