Automated license plate readers in Maryland county raise privacy concerns

A Maryland county is facing questions over privacy concerns after launching a program that will place automated license plate readers throughout the county.

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The Calvert County Sheriff's Office announced that it will be installing automated license plate readers in strategic places around the county to help solve and prevent crime. The Sheriff's Office says it teamed up with Flock Safety, a private company that works with law enforcement and has cameras in over 2,000 cities across 40 states, to launch the program. 

The cameras work by providing a real time notification to the Sheriff's Office when any vehicle on a "hot list" passes by a camera. The list includes vehicles that are stolen or reported in crime databases like the FBI's National Crime Information Center or the Amber Alert list.

Experts say this will help solve and prevent crimes.

"Immediately you'll start to see within a few weeks of cameras starting to go up in jurisdictions you'll start to see more stolen vehicle recoveries so those will spike. You'll start to see more offenders that are apprehended as a result of those real time alerts," Holly Beilen from Flock Safety tells FOX 5.

But as with all technology, the cameras are raising privacy concerns. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU released a report earlier this year on Flock Safety, saying that the company "is building a form of mass surveillance unlike any seen before in American life. [It] effectively enlists its customers into a giant centralized government surveillance network."


FOX 5 spoke to Dave Maass from Electronic Frontier Foundation about the concerns.

"You know, if you had a police department and they started putting a police officer on every corner and they had a notepad writing down where you're going, you would be upset about that, you'd find that invasive, you'd find that disgusting," Maass tells FOX 5. "But people don't seem to notice it as much if it's just an inconspicuous box on a stick by the side of the road, but it is as nefarious, it is as invasive."

To help ease the privacy concerns, the ACLU suggests that Flock Safety delete all data about cars that were not flagged every few minutes.

Right now, Flock Safety says the cameras keep the data for 30 days and then delete it forever after that. The Sheriff's Office has reinforced that the cameras will not collect a driver's personal information.