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New Law Enforcement Technology Puts Privacy at Risk Says ACLU

Photo: License plate reader camera. Courtesy: ACLU of NC
Photo: License plate reader camera. Courtesy: ACLU of NC
December 27, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Police departments around the state will be on extra patrols this weekend, in preparation for the New Year's holiday. Many of them – 16, in fact – will do so with new license plate reader cameras.

The cameras put the information on drivers and their location into a searchable database. New technology is also enabling them to monitor cell-phone use and even text messages, says Mike Meno, communications director for the ACLU of North Carolina.

"A lot of folks will think, 'Well, if I'm not doing anything wrong, I don't have anything to hide.' We've found lots of incidents where people who are not involved in criminal investigations at all have gotten caught up in this."

Through open-records requests, Meno says, the ACLU found one incident in Cary where the police department requested the cell-phone use of every call made through a cell-phone tower.

Charlotte has 650 surveillance cameras around the city, with plans to expand. The city just asked private businesses to allow police officers to monitor cameras inside their businesses.

No law in North Carolina requires officers to obtain a warrant before tracking cell-phone use, although a poll from the ACLU found that 74 percent of state residents would support such a law. Meno says regulations should be updated.

"So, in a lot of ways, the technology is outpacing the law. It is now easier than ever before for the government to track an individual's movements."

Meno says the ACLU and others question how additional surveillance cameras would be used. He's concerned many will be placed in low-income neighborhoods, unfairly targeting that population.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC