The government is constantly trying to balance the security of the public with the rights of the public. In Carlsbad, the City Council recently voted to sacrifice the privacy of drivers entering the city in exchange for greater safety within the community. While only time will tell if the move actually decreases crime, many of the public as well as the one dissenting City Council member worry that the privacy rights of drivers will be lost immediately. Here’s what you should know, courtesy of Vista defense lawyer Peter M. Liss.
Last month, the city voted to expand their use of license plate readers so that every road entering the city will be covered and every car that crosses into Carlsbad will have its license scanned and recorded. The license will be automatically matched against databases like Amber Alerts and lists of stolen vehicles so the police will automatically be notified whenever anyone driving a car with a flagged license enters the city. Registration information for the cars will not be pulled, so if there is a warrant out for someone’s arrest, but no alert for their vehicle, the system will not affect the driver of the car. The records will be stored for up to a year so police can also match license plates of suspects accused of crimes within the system to see if and when the suspect entered the city with his or her car. After a year, the records will be deleted unless they are involved with a criminal investigation.
Carlsbad isn’t the only city using license plate readers in San Diego, but most of the other cities, like Oceanside and Escondido, limit the use of the readers to police patrol cars. The readers have proven useful with catching car thieves. But privacy rights advocates and criminal attorneys in Vista argue that it goes a step too far to track every car entering an entire city -warning that the database storing such data could easily be exploited. As ACLU lawyer Kellen Russoniello points out, “It’s fairly easy for nefarious government actors to find out where (people) go to the doctors, where they practice their religion … you can basically track wherever a person goes.”
Many argue that the license plate readers are taking things a step too far when around half of the crimes committed in Carlsbad involve thieves removing things from cars and homes that were left completely unlocked. They believe that it seems wiser to educate locals on the importance of locking their doors than to jump towards tracking everyone who enters the city. Residents are also concerned that they may be pushing criminals to simply target neighboring cities, straining political relationships between communities.
Vista criminal lawyers also point out that while license plate readers have been useful in uncovering stolen cars, they solve relatively few crimes otherwise when compared to how much data they record -particularly when placed at all intersections used to enter a city.
If you have any questions about what a city-wide license plate reader program could mean to the public and how it could affect criminal law, please call Vista defense attorney Peter Liss at (760) 643-4050.
Creative Commons Image by David Prasad