Poor people face extra scrutiny from license plate readers

Police officers and repo companies are using license plate readers to target people in low-income communities.


NSFW    DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA — Automatic license plate recognition systems are being used all over the U.S., but both cops and private agencies seem to be using them to target low income individuals.

The Atlantic reports that license plate readers mounted on police cars scan the plate number of every vehicle it passes, and notifies the officer if the plate is suspect.

Police also have access to a database containing billions of privately-gathered license plate scans, which they can cross-reference with their own database of outstanding warrants.

The scans come mainly from private debt collection agencies, who use the technology to track down and collect bounties on vehicles flagged for repossession.

At least two Massachusetts companies admitted to targeting low-income areas whose residents are more likely to be behind on payments. Meanwhile, 2014 data on the Oakland Police Department found that they also deployed more readers in poor neighborhoods, and areas with more African-Americans and Latinos.

As a result, low-income communities of color face a disproportionate amount of scrutiny and policing compared to areas with a wealthier and whiter population.

Likewise, very few laws govern how information obtained by license plate readers is collected, shared, and stored, which also raises privacy and civil liberty concerns.
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