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San Francisco to install 400 more license plate reading cameras

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(The Center Square) – The city of San Francisco will install 400 Automated License Plate Reader cameras to cover 100 intersections throughout the city.

The Board of Supervisors approved the expansion of the license-plate reader program on Dec. 12. The expansion will cost $17.3 million and will be funded by a state grant with the goal of combating organized retail theft.

“Installing a network of automated license plate readers will be a game-changer for San Francisco,” said San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott in a media release. “The SFPD will be able to more easily identify vehicles and suspects wanted in some of our most pervasive and challenging serial crimes, like retail theft, auto burglaries, vehicle theft and catalytic converter theft to name just a few. These cameras will also help our officers be more precise in the vehicles they pull over, which will reduce unnecessary stops, and assist in our ongoing efforts to build trust with the communities we serve.”

According to city documents, the police can share the information with another public agency as permitted by state law. The information can’t be shared with out-of-state or federal agencies without a court order.

The city policy states police can use the information to apprehend people who have arrest warrants, locate stolen cars of vehicles that are subject of an investigation, locate certain people such as missing children, assist with criminal investigations started by other agencies, to identify potential threats to critical infrastructure sites and to investigate major crimes.

The city of Berkeley police department is going to expand use of its license plate reader technology beyond parking enforcement. The city is starting a two-year trial of the expansion.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued two legal bulletins in October providing guidance to policing agencies about respecting the state law on privacy regarding the license plate reading technology.

“Today, we remind law enforcement of their responsibility to safeguard this data and ensure its use is consistent with state law,” Bonta said in a media release.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is located in San Francisco, has raised concerns about the use of license plate reading technology.

“Taken in the aggregate, ALPR data can paint an intimate portrait of a driver’s life and even chill First Amendment protected activity,” the electronic privacy watchdog stated on its website. “ALPR technology can be used to target drivers who visit sensitive places such as health centers, immigration clinics, gun shops, union halls, protests, or centers of religious worship. … So it’s particularly disturbing that automatic license plate readers are used to track and record the movements of millions of ordinary people, even though the overwhelming majority are not connected to a crime.”

Saira Hussain, a senior attorney with EFF, detailed her organizations concerns with the technology. That includes municipal governments fighting release of the license plate reading data and the technology is “often deployed disproportionately in lower-income communities and communities of color.”

“For these reasons, any city, including San Francisco, should seriously consider whether using and adding hundreds of ALPRs is in the public’s interest, given the serious privacy and surveillance concerns the technology presents,” Hussain said in an email to The Center Square.

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