SPD knows where you’ve been with license-plate scanner program
SEATTLE — If you drove the streets of Seattle during the past year, chances are SPD knows you were out and about.
According to a report released by the Seattle Times, a SPD program meant to identify stolen cars and multiple-ticket offenders recorded more than 1.6 million license plate scans during a 86-day period over the summer. The police department scanned more than 600,000 unique plates on 72 percent of Seattle’s roads from May to August.
The program — called the license plate scanner program — helped identify 1,858 stolen cars and illegal parkers, the Seattle Times reported.
But the program comes at the cost of residents’ privacy, some critics say, since even cars that aren’t stolen or have an abundance of tickets have their location saved and stored in a database. The location can be used for future criminal investigations.
Capitol HIll, downtown, Sodo and parts of Queen Anne and Ballard are among the most frequently scanned areas, the Times said. Area parks such as Golden Gardens were also popular locations for cops recording plates. Seattle police officers have even — if rarely — used the scanner outside of SPD jurisdiction, such as in Fife and Snohomish County.
Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union are wary of the program, saying it is another example of Big Brother oversight. Jamela Debelak of the ACLU’s Washington state branch told the Times the program was hastily designed, and takes little concern for privacy violations.
The SPD’s full regulatory policy on license-plate readers is only 132 words.
“These devices got rolled out, thrown out there without any real thinking or policies,” Debelak told the Times.