Pro/Con: License Plate Readers


On March 1, the San Diego Police Department proposed installing 500 new Smart Streetlights, equipped with automated license plate readers, or ALPRs, around San Diego for the security and protection of its citizens. Automated license plate readers capture the license plates of passing cars for law enforcement and alert investigators to vehicles in their system that are connected with crimes. This technology in San Diego will greatly strengthen San Diego’s police force, especially benefiting investigations, without invading citizens’ privacy.

Firstly, the readers will provide an extraordinarily helpful tool to our currently short-staffed police department in investigating more serious cases. Cases that involve missing persons, human trafficking, exploitation of children and narcotics trafficking will all be easier to investigate and solve. The license plate reader system would automatically compare scanned license plates with other databases containing the license plates of vehicles connected to crimes. If a match is found, the technology immediately notifies police that a wanted car was detected and at what time and location. The police will also be able to create a “watch list” of suspect vehicles as crimes happen in real time, allowing law enforcement to be alerted to any vehicle associated with a crime in San Diego, no matter

how recently the crime occurred.
One of the major concerns surrounding the integration of the technology is that it may be an invasion of the public’s privacy. A clear understanding of how this technology works and will be used, however, says otherwise. It is important to note that there is no facial recognition technology included in the readers; they can only scan the license plates of passing cars. Although the readers do upload all of the license plates to a database, only the ones that match other databases for wanted cars or cars that are connected with crimes set off an alert. If the data is not used to aid in law enforcement endeavors, it will be deleted in 30 days, according

to the Los Angeles Times.
Counter to beliefs that the license

plate database is easily accessible or not secure, only select people and departments have access to the data. For the San Diego Police to have permission to access the technology, they are required to follow specific procedures outlined in two new ordinances created by the city, called the Transparent and Responsible Use of Surveillance Technology (TRUST). One of them established a Privacy Advisory Board “to offer advice in hopes of ensuring transparency, accountability and public debate,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

In addition, only “law enforcement personnel that have an official purpose for accessing … a criminal case or incident number/name, [and] a lawful purpose with a need and right to know the information” can access the data, according to the police department’s proposed plan on California ALPR FAQs.

A survey by the La Jolla Light found 42% of respondents would feel safer if SDPD used automated license plate readers. Only 13% of respondents said that they would feel less safe.

This technology will work wonders for the security of San Diego, and all those who live in it.


Within the next few months, there is a very high chance that the San Diego Police Department will have eyes everywhere. In early March, the police department proposed a plan to install 500 surveillance cameras on street lights around the entire city that would be able to read the license plates of passing cars and store information about when and where they passed the readers. These camera systems will invade San Diegans’ privacy and have historically been proven to collect minimal amounts of data that could actually aid law enforcement in solving crimes. They should not be installed on the streets of San Diego.

For many, this new technology seems like a major invasion of privacy. The license plate readers have the ability to track one’s car at any point in time if driving within the areas where the cameras are set up. The information gathered by the readers will be stored in a database that the state government has the ability to access. While this data is intended to be used to aid the police department in solving crimes, the fact that the readers will be collecting information about any vehicle on public roads raises ethical concerns about the technology. Even though the cameras will not be collecting civilians’ names and faces, they are collecting something equally personal: location data. This data can tell police where specific cars were at certain times and thus map out their everyday routines. The location information of San Diegans should not be so easily available to police officers.

Some argue that installing license plate readers will benefit our community. For one, the readers will aid police in much more easily finding wanted vehicles associated with missing-person cases and other crimes. As scanned license plates are fed into the police’s database, they are automatically compared with other law enforcement databases that contain lists of license plates connected with crimes. If there is a match, local


By Ellie Koff


officers are alerted.
But while the license plate

recognition technology may seem like an effective way to drastically reduce crime rates and easily catch criminals, the results of previous attempts at implementing this technology reflect a different outcome. In Escondido, the readers were set up to solve crimes, but according to KPBS, only 0.9% of the license plates the cameras read ended up actually aiding the police in investigating crimes. According to the Union-Tribune, Chula Vista’s license plate reader system reported 293,599 records in 2021, but only 170 of those records were useful to the police. The sole purpose of installing surveillance cameras in our county would be to help the police solve crimes more efficiently. At a cost of $4 million to install the cameras, according to the La Jolla Light, the technology is anything but cost efficient, especially when recorded data on thousands of civilians’ whereabouts are collected without good reason.

The proposed license plate reader system does not accomplish its purported purpose. We should not set up the readers on the streets of San Diego and subject innocent private citizens to invasions of their privacy by potentially tracking their whereabouts. We should instead continue to have law enforcement protect the public in the same way that has worked for many years.

Read on Issuu.

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