For many years, license plate readers (LPRs) have been available for fixed location cameras, and police dashcams. Law enforcement agencies have argued that you should have no expectation of privacy in a public place. As written in Ars Technica, this discussion is being turned on it’s head. New software released gives anyone the ability to track and read license plates quickly, easily, and all for free.
The two man team behind openalpr.org designed the software to be open source and obtainable by anyone. Their theory is, instead of just the government and police having the ability to scan plates, everyone should have the ability to utilize this technology, and they feel that the playing field should be leveled. It seems they have done this though to draw attention to their other services.
For $50 a month per camera, any IP enabled security camera may become an instant LPR, and have access to their cloud based solution. There is also a self contained version that increases the cost to $1,000 per month. There is also quite a bit of interest from small businesses that are trying to secure their perimeters. The company itself has not made a great deal of money yet, and for some, there is a question of it will catch on for the ordinary public.
There are other potential problems with this software as well. It is not a far stretch to imagine the people that could use it for nefarious purposes. As an example, a would be thief could make their own hot list of cars to be stolen, just by the vehicles driving down the street located anywhere. Another issue may enable someone to stalk or harass someone else. Lastly, it could be used in cases of blackmail and public websites could be established to track where any car is at a given time.
Interestingly, there could be an upside to this. If a security camera has this software, could the reading also be used to exonerate someone? Would courts see that as admissible data like other video, or could it be discounted because of a possible misread? Even police ALPRs can misread numbers, causing dangerous situations to occur. Ultimately, it comes down to your perspective on surveillance. Without legislation to govern this technology, ALPRs are completely legal and within the bounds of the law. Whether or not we will see more states pass legislation on ALPR systems remains to be seen, but that box has been opened.