Montgomery County considering increasing license plate readers to combat crime

Police in Montgomery County are ramping up surveillance in the streets to help tackle dangerous driving. But, how will it affect privacy concerns?

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The Montgomery County Executive's Office created a Crime Prevention Task Force last month to examine ways to combat crime in the county. One of the methods they're considering is increasing license plate readers throughout the county.

The move comes in response to multiple incidents of illegal and dangerous driving by groups of vehicles gathering in the county.

Dr. Earl Stoddard in the county executive's office said the information can be sent to insurance companies. Sharing information with these companies provides law enforcement with another tool to disincentivize dangerous driving, Stoddard says.

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According to the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center, each digital image of a vehicle can capture the vehicle's make and model. 

It can also capture the vehicle's driver and passengers, distinguishing features such as bumper stickers and car damage, and the state of registration.

Some privacy experts are concerned that gathering that kind of information poses a risk to personal privacy because the information can be collected and shared for different reasons. 

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"There's a whole can of worms that can be opened up by collecting all of this data and then having no limits on how it can be shared and who it can be shared with," says Jeramie Scott from the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "You know when the information goes to insurance companies."

A spokesperson for the county confirmed that the only information captured in a license plate reader image is a photo of the license plate on a vehicle.

There is no additional information, including an image of the driver or passenger, captured by Montgomery County license plate readers, according to the spokesperson.


Montgomery County Police declined to comment on Monday and will have a meeting on the topic next Monday, Dec 6.