A device about the size of a fat textbook will soon be strapped atop Memphis squad cars scanning license plates in search of scofflaws, reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal. The police department will put its first license-plate reader on the street next month and plans to add 65 more in the next year. The device can read up to 1,500 plates a minute and instantly sift through databases searching for outstanding warrants, stolen vehicles, expired tags, suspended licenses, or other violations.
The devices cost about $17,000 each and are being purchased through a grant from the Justice Department’s office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), said University of Memphis criminologist Richard Janikowski. The American Civil Liberties Union says the U.S. lacks laws to govern what the data can be used for. “We live in a world with almost unbridled law enforcement,” said Barry Steinhardt, ACLU technology and liberty program director. “America is on the cusp of creating a surveillance society where every movement and transaction is recorded and tracked. It’s all part and parcel of a surveillance technology society created at the speed of light, but the laws that govern this are back in the Dark Ages.”