Privacy Issues Brought Into Focus with New Roadside Cameras

A new technology is sweeping the country which privacy advocates are beginning to become more wary of: license plate readers. These readers are high-tech cameras mounted along roads and highways which can read the license plates of close to 2,000 cars every minute, giving police the ability to identify and track criminals faster than ever before.

This technology has long been used in Europe, but in the United States it is only recently infiltrating into the public sphere. It is now in all of the 50 states and it is especially useful at the U.S. – Mexican border, helping to stem the tide of drugs, illegal money, and weapons smuggling across the border. A contract was awarded in October by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency worth about $350 million to increase the use of these cameras along the border, where, at the moment, thousands of license plates are already being processed by this system each day.

Critics argue that innocent people can become easy targets for tracking. “It’s like being forced to walk around with a bar code that a scanner can pick up — except that it’s your car,” said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, which advocates for consumer and privacy rights. “This is one of those privacy places where the rubber really meets the road.”


Rachel Forsythe has a B.A. in English Literature and worked as an editor for a local weekly news magazine. She is now a stay-at-home mom, raising three younger boys and two older daughters. Her favorite activities are hiking, reading, traveling, bike riding, skiing in the winter and surfing in the summer. She also loves to cook. Be in touch with Rachel at Rachel[at]

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