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License Plate “Profiling”?

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dk-thumb2 Daryl Killian
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Today’s show was born from the media coverage surrounding the George Zimmerman trial and questions about whether profiling played a role in the death of Trayvon Martin. It is not my intent nor my desire to hash out the legalities of what happened the night of the shooting nor the outcome of the trial, but rather to offer information to aid our young people if ever they encounter law enforcement while operating a motor vehicle. In preparation for today’s show, it was brought to my attention that our government (local, state and federal), uses a multitude of devices to monitor our movement, one of which is attached to common police cruisers. With that, I thought what a fitting topic for the AutoNsider on the heels of the George Zimmerman verdict. Does our government condone profiling? Even license plate profiling?

The next time you encounter a police vehicle, pay close attention to the rear deck lid. If there is a small box on the deck lid (and there probably will be), just know that “big brother” is watching. Since early 2000, the government has increasingly employed the use of license plate scanners to track its citizens.

According to WASHINGTON (AP), “chances are, your local or state police departments have photographs of your car in their files, noting where you were driving on a particular day, even if you never did anything wrong” and in many cases there’s also a picture of the occupants of the vehicle as well. The information is then uploaded to police databases where the information can be kept, in some instances, indefinitely. The information is used to identify stolen vehicles, expired registration, suspected terrorists, child abductions and suspicious cars, but the last one makes me ask, who decides what’s suspicious?

According to Lt. Bill Hedgpeth, a spokesman for the Mesquite Police Department in Texas, in an article written by Anne Flaherty, Associated Press, “‘There’s no expectation of privacy’ for a vehicle driving on a public road or parked in a public place.” However, according to Catherine Crump, a privacy lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union “plate readers are the most pervasive system of location tracking that people haven’t heard of.” She went further to question how the information used and how long it is retained by stating, “Law enforcement agencies should not be storing data about people who have done nothing wrong. Ordinary people going about their daily lives have every right to expect that their movements will not be logged into massive government databases.” I would have to agree with Ms. Crump that if a citizen has done nothing to break the law, their information should not be stored nor shared with any other agency.

However, the information is in fact shared with other law enforcement agencies and the repossession industry who uses it to locate private vehicles. I haven’t uncovered whether the information is sold or given, but it raises a concern that our government could quite possibly be purchasing equipment with citizens money and selling information gathered to private companies used to entrap the very people who paid for the technology. Also, once this information has been transferred to the private companies, there is no government oversite to monitor how the information is being used. Talk about information getting into the wrong hands…this is one of the surveillance programs mentioned by Edward Snowden, former NSA employee. The very technology that our government uses to protect its citizens from terrorist activity could fall into the hands of some unscrupulous person with some other agenda.

Back to the point of the show today though, if you or your teen is detained by a law enforcement officer based on information gathered from a license plate scanner (profiling), there are a few tips to follow:

1. Pull over to a safe place off of the roadway (preferably a well-lit area with possible witnesses)
2. Keep your hands on the steering wheel until the officer approaches the vehicle
3. Provide requested paperwork (when instructed to do so)
4. Limit conversation (as not to incriminate yourself)
5. Do not admit guilt to any traffic offense
6. Stay calm (as much as possible)
7. Sign citation (it’s not an admission of guilt)
8. Reserve your right to “contest” for your court date
9. Make notes about the encounter before leaving scene

While many may feel that you don’t have to be overly compliant with the officer and while you have every right to confront the officer during the stop, you also have the right to remain silent. When a law enforcement officer issues you a citation, the citation clearly states that you are “under arrest” and “license displayed in lieu of bail”. It is the officer’s discretion as to whether they take you to jail or release you with a court date and their decision is often predicated on your disposition.

For more information covered on the show:

License Plate Scanners
ACLU
Dealing With a Traffic Stop
Driving Somewhere? There’s a government record of that

Tune in to WAOK 1380, waok.com or V103HD3 every Saturday morning from 10 til noon for everything automotive.

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