At our next meeting, the Council will take up a request by the Sheriff’s Department — which provides law enforcement in San Carlos — to purchase an additional license plate reader, and expand how long captured license plate data is retained.
Our existing license plate readers have played a useful role in a number of criminal investigations, proving their value as an investigatory tool. Consequently, it seems reasonable to me that we invest in another one.
I’m more troubled by expanding the data retention period. It’s a settled matter of law that there is no right to privacy when traveling on a public road, nor even to operate a vehicle on one (that’s why they’re able to be licensed and registered). But, despite that, my sense is most people get a skin-crawling sensation when they think about their normal, everyday movements being tracked by the government.
In fairness, three license plate readers can’t track vehicles in San Carlos; even our small town is too big for that limited number of cameras to cover. That doesn’t matter so far as criminal investigations are concerned, where one is mostly interested in seeing if a particular vehicle or kind of vehicle was in town around the time a crime was committed. Nevertheless, I still think many have a concern about the trend towards gathering more surveillance data.
Which is why I pushed, when we bought our first two readers several years ago, to have our data expunged from the regional state/federal data warehouse where it’s stored as quickly as was consistent with allowing law enforcement a reasonable window in which to do their investigations (at the time, I told the Chief that if he really needed a year, instead of six months, we needed to have a different conversation, focused on getting him more investigatory resources). Nothing has happened to change the basis of my concerns. If anything, recent examples of “surveillance” run amok, like Facebook providing a massive data trove to Cambridge Analytica, have heightened them.
But my gut tells me most of the Council is okay with our data retention period being expanded. Not because they want to monitor residents. But because law enforcement is asking them to do it, and most, if not all, of our neighboring communities allow one year retention.
If you think we shouldn’t make this change, now would be a good time to contact your Council members.
What do you think about this issue?