The problem arises from retention of the captured data. Menlo Park, like other local jurisdictions, would send its data for storage in a regional database maintained in San Francisco. Such a massive collection of data could allow police to track the movements of individual vehicles throughout the course of a day, whether the occupants are engaged in criminal activity or not. Someone attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, for instance, may feel violated by knowing that information can now land in the hands of police without any probable cause.
According to a recent report by the Center for Investigative Reporting, more than 30 government agencies in the Bay Area use the license-plate readers and undoubtedly more will sign up soon. The report cited the experience of San Leandro resident Michael Katz-Lacabe, whose two cars had been photographed 112 times by a single San Leandro patrol car. One photo showed Mr. Katz-Lacabe and his two daughters stepping out of his car in their driveway. The photograph frightened him about the magnitude of police surveillance and data collection, he said.
The interest in this new technology arrives at a time when the public is learning more about massive surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency, reportedly tracking phone calls and emails without warrants. The concern has gone global — foreign governments are upset with the U.S. after Wiki-Leaks, and more recently, NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed just how widespread the surveillance is.
These revelations should prompt the Menlo Park council to require what will safeguard the privacy of individuals driving through the city's streets going about their daily lives. Those saying there's no need to worry if you aren't doing something "wrong"fail to learn from history that the definition of "wrong" changes with those in power.