The announcement that Motorola is introducing Automatic License Plate Recognition had a sense of inevitability, yet one wonders where all this video camera surveillance technology -- empowered with "smart" image processing -- is taking us.
New York City is home to many quirky, specialized organizations. The Surveillance Camera Players are one such group. Ostensibly, they're a drama troupe that performs for a very special audience: Police and private security guards who are watching the images from surveillance cameras that are watching public places in New York City -- sidewalks, parks, plazas, etc.
But of course their purpose and intended audience is really far broader -- to point attention to the ever-increasing presence of security cameras, and the ever-increasing sense that we're being watched, everywhere we go.
In that spirit, we note with a sigh of inevitability the recent announcement that Motorola has introduced
Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR), a "smart" video camera technology installed in police cars (or fixed locations, such as traffic intersections) that continuously scans viewable plates and checks them against a police database -- see Police car video cam reads license plates automatically.
The U.S. is a nation of petty lawbreakers. Whether it's violating the highway speed limits, which more than 90% of drivers routinely do, or not reporting cash income on taxes (restaurant waiters' tips, for example), or talking on a cell phone while driving, which is illegal now in many states. (In New York City there's an old drivers' education joke that a red light means only three more cars can go through.)
Now, anyone driving on the road with a minor infraction -- like an expired inspection sticker, or some unpaid parking tickets, may be instantly spotted by the police through this new technology and pulled over.
Legally speaking, of course, there's no right to privacy in the U.S. while driving, and license plates have always been readily visible just for this purpose, to identify vehicles. Yet, deep down, we also know something will have fundamentally changed here too, once this technology becomes fully deployed, and the police become constantly aware of every car that's currently on the road. A certain sense of anonymity, and a bit of free spirit, will be lost forever.
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Cliff Roth is Video/Imaging DesignLine Site Editor.