[Editor's Note, April 6: This story has been updated in the seventh paragraph to more accurately reflect the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut's stance on license plate readers.]
Deputy Fairfield Police Chief Christopher Lyddy defends his department's use of license plate readers — which have raised the ire of some civil liberties groups, due to privacy concerns — and also gives anecdotes exemplifying their effectiveness in a recent article in the CT Post.
In the report, Lyddy explains license plate readers — which are already in use in numerous Fairfield County towns — save police departments hundreds of man hours and result in . The devices, which cost about $10,000 a piece, enable officers to automatically scan all plates that pass by a patrol car and check them against a database for things like outstanding warrants and tickets in real-time.
The devices are also proving to be a powerful investigatory tool: The plate scans are kept in a database which can be searched in order to discover if a particular vehicle was in a particular location at a particular time.
In the report, Lyddy explains that since the readers were installed on patrol cars in Fairfield in 2010, they've yielded "quite a few arrests for different motor vehicle violations" that police otherwise might not have had the time or resources to pursue.
"We picked up some stolen cars and we had two robbery arrests as a direct result of the plate reader in kind of a convoluted fashion," Lyddy said in the CT Post report, adding that the readers recently helped Fairfield Police apprehend a robbery suspect in Bridgeport.
Local, state and even federal law enforcement agencies are now using the readers on a regular basis (the town of New Canaan was recently ) — and even the Department of Motor Vehicles and local town governments see a wide range of possible benefits from their use (for example, license plate readers could on vehicles and could also be installed at ). The readers are reportedly very accurate and have been in use in Europe for many years to automate the issuance of speeding tickets.
However some civil liberties groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, are concerned about privacy implications. Currently Connecticut state law allows law enforcement agencies to hold onto the data indefinitely — whereas other states have passed laws requiring the data to be "purged" after a period of time. The ACLU wants to see rules in place to discard the data after two weeks.
Meanwhile, the Connecticut state legislature is reportedly debating , a measure which wouls allow law enforcement to track the whereabouts of literally every registered vehicle in the state at any given moment. The RFID tags would also allow law enforcement to access historical data showing where every vehicle has been, starting from when the RFID chips installed.
The state Senate Transportation Committee recently voted unanimously to support Senate Bill 288, which was introduced in the legislature following aggressive lobbying by representatives of the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) industry.
But, just like the proposal to install license plate readers in police squad cars, the proposal has raised the eyebrows of some lawmakers who are concerned about the impact on privacy.
In addition, the federal government is pushing ahead with a law requiring states to install RFID tags into all new driver’s licenses, under the REAL ID Act of 2005, essentially for the same purpose.