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
— “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
— 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 City Council 
- Press release, 12/17/08: “NEWS RELEASE – Takoma Park Police to Acquire License Plate Recognition Scanner “; my discussion .
- Grant application  by TPPD to Maryland Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention; my discussion .
- TPPD 2008 Annual Report : auto thefts down 24% from 2007 (before scanner proposal); TPPD Bulletin summary : stolen cars rarely reported involved in other crimes; my discussion .
- City Council January 26 worksession:
- Selected relevant City Council resolutions:
- February 25 forum:
- April 13 worksession
- July 6 Ordinance 2009-42 : “WHEREAS, the Police Department has a written policy controlling the operation of license plate scanners and the use, retention, and dissemination of collected data. NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT ORDAINED BY THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF TAKOMA PARK, MARYLAND THAT: SECTION 1. The City Manager or her designee is hereby authorized to purchase an MPH-900X2 Mobile License Plate Reader four camera system and software, with a Panasonic CF-30 Toughbook Ruggedized Computer from ELSAG North America in the amount of $23,150.00.
SECTION 2. The City Council will approve changes to the City’s policy for license plate scanners prior to implementation of any future policy changes.”
- TPPD license plate scanner policy
Civil liberties, civil rights, privacy
- The Constitution Project : “Guidelines for Public Video Surveillance: With Model Legislation ” (.PDF, 104 pages)
- ACLU Privacy & Technology  site
- The Fourth Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized .
- Driver’s Privacy Protection Act  (DPPA; Title 18, 2721 of U.S. Code)** and EPIC fact sheet 
- Maryland 10-616  of State Government Article; MD DOT MVA “Protecting Your Privacy ” **
- Mine, collected under the tag “license plate scanner ” on this site
- Security expert Bruce Schneier “City Cops’ Plate Scanner is a License to Snoop ” (Sep 2004); “Privacy in the Age of Persistence ” (Feb 2009)
- 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.