Many Little Rock residents apparently still haven’t heard about the surveillance. Angel Weston, 45, said she’s glad to hear that police are looking for stolen cars and people with warrants but wondered about keeping logs of citizens’ movements.
“I don’t feel like they should keep the data for six or 12 months,” Weston said.
Lawmakers in several states, including Minnesota and Utah, have suggested setting a time limit for their departments, but Little Rock has no policy yet. The department now has a growing archive of license plate photos, along with time stamps and the locations, showing where motorists were at certain times.
Privacy advocates worry about the potential uses for such outside law enforcement, from snooping by stalkers and private investigators to businesses that sell personal data.
“Given how few rules are currently on the books to protect our privacy, it’s plausible that private investigators and data-mining companies could acquire this location data,” Crump said. So far, the organization has requested more information from government agencies, but hasn’t filed any lawsuits, Crump said.
Little Rock’s license plate reader is mounted in Officer Grant Humphries’ patrol car. He said it’s led to dozens of arrests and the recovery of a number of stolen vehicles and vehicles and license plates, although the exact number isn’t known.
As Humphries drives around town, a laptop processes the license plate numbers being photographed and emits a sound and flashes red when it finds a match.
On a recent drive, Humphries fell in behind an SUV and pulled it over after the laptop went off.
Moments later, he and another officer arrested passenger Montague Martin, who was wanted on outstanding warrants.
As he sat handcuffed in the back of the patrol car, Martin said he thought the license plate reader was a good idea.
“I’m not mad at what they’re doing,” Martin said before Humphries drove him to jail. “They’re doing their job. I just didn’t pay my ticket on time.”