License plate cameras meant to stop crime causing privacy concerns

CRANSOTN, R.I. (WLNE) – New cameras on the roads in Cranston, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket are worrying residents who are concerned about their privacy.

Authorities in the three towns are doing a 60-day trial of the cameras, which take pictures of license plates so police can determine whether they have been involved in a crime. At a press conference Wednesday, officials said the new cameras are meant to stop and solve crimes.

But, police say there’s no reason to be skeptical. Officials say the cameras do not record people or faces, only vehicles. And if the picture of a license plate is not connected to an investigation, it’s deleted.

According to a release from the three departments, 29 cameras were installed in Cranston, 17 in Pawtucket and 13 in Woonsocket. All are on city-owned property.

Officials say the cameras will send real-time alerts to law enforcement when a stolen car, or known wanted suspect from a state or national database, enters the town. They say the cameras can also send alerts for vehicles associated with missing persons, or an AMBER or Silver Alert.

In the release, officials said the cameras do not automatically provide driver information. That must be manually verified by an officer or dispatcher.

Some residents are concerned about the potential for privacy invasion, while others don’t seem to mind.

“I could understand why neighbors or people around the neighborhood would be offended or not really crazy about it, but personally it doesn’t affect me at all,” said Nora Alexander of Cranston.

The ACLU of Rhode Island cited privacy concerns in a statement released Wednesday. The statement said, in part:

“These are not decisions that should be unilaterally made by law enforcement agencies. Members of the public should have a say as to whether they support these potentially invasive technologies in their community – before, not after, they are installed. Further, the implication that only those residents who have committed crimes need to worry about these technologies is inappropriately dismissive of the secrecy with which these programs commenced and the persistent invasion of privacy that these cameras can pose to everyone.

“Marketing material on Flock Safety’s website promotes the ability that this technology has to enable searches not only by license plate number, but by identifying vehicle attributes like the color or make of the car. The public shouldn’t be deluded into thinking that these cameras act solely as ‘license plate reader’ devices when they, in fact, track and store much more detailed information than license plate numbers. The capability that these cameras have to indiscriminately track when and where drivers go can create an oppressive system of government surveillance in a free society.”

Flock Safety is the company that manufactures the cameras.

Police also emphasized at the press conference that these are not for traffic enforcement, like red light cameras.

Categories: News, Rhode Island