a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

TPPD license plate scanner

You had to live – did live, from
habit that became instinct – in
the assumption that every sound
you made was overheard, and,
except in darkness, every
movement scrutinised.

— “1984”, George Orwell

Suppose that the local police in
a particular jurisdiction were to
decide to station a police car at the
entrance to the parking lot of a
well patronized bar from 5:30 p.m.
to 7:30 p.m. every business day for
the purpose of making a list of the
license plates of cars that were
driven in and parked in the lot
during that time… I would guess
that the great majority of people
who might have the question
posed to them would say that
this is not a proper police

— William Rehnquist, 1974

They who can give up essential
liberty to obtain a little temporary
safety, deserve neither liberty
nor safety.

— Benjamin Franklin

This page is a resource page about the proposed acquisition of a license plate scanner system by the Takoma Park Police Department.  I believe there are substantive civil liberties concerns with these systems.

Takoma Park

Civil liberties, civil rights, privacy

Relevant law

Articles, opinions


  • Manufacturers: PlateScan (motto: “The License Plate is just the Beginning”), ELSAG
  • Automatic number plate recognition (Wikipedia)*
  • Evidence for counterfeit or stolen plates as car theft strategy and way of defeating scanners: UK Home Office Consultation Document, undated, response deadline 12/8/2008: “As regards misrepresentation of vehicle registration marks, we understand from the police that there has been a steady increase in the numbers using illegal number plates. Breaches of the legislation include altering the layout of letters and numerals, illegal fonts and the use of tape to change the appearance of the plate. This has significant implications for criminal investigations and crime detection, eg by Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems and automatic speed detection devices.” See also WSJ, BBC (via), CBS; more generally, vehicle cloning report by Natl. Insurance Crime Bureau.

* Common acronyms for these systems include ANPR (automatic number plate recognition), ALPR, LPR, (license plate), and AVI (vehicle identification).
** DPPA and MD 10-616 are mainly relevant to invasions of privacy by non-law enforcement persons — but both disprove the widespread notion that there is no expectation of privacy for license plate information.

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3 Responses to “TPPD license plate scanner”

  1. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Welcome! Discussion — pro and con — is most welcome. For some guidelines, see here; basically, please be polite.

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