License Plate Scanning Technology - Good for Society or Invasion of Privacy?

The prevalence of license plate scanning technology is growing at an astounding rate. Very soon your car will be tracked multiple times a day by police, by parking lots, by road and bridge tolls and even by your fast food or coffee shop drive thru window. License plate scanning technology was originally presented as an industrial grade camera and OCR (Optical Character Recognition) system tied together, via basic computing power, to government databases in order to bill you for your toll road trips without having to stop at a toll booth. Now with neural nets and computer vision capabilities delivered via the cloud and always connected devices, license plate scanning is hitting the mainstream with law enforcement and business harnessing its power.

Police are adopting the technology at a very fast pace and are equipping their vehicles with the technology.  The use of license plate scanning is rationalized as the officer can focus on the human element while the technology quickly tells them if the car is stolen, the plate tags are out of date or the owner is wanted for some crime or another. Public safety is held up as more important than any privacy issues. So far there have been a few privacy challenges but law enforcement is looking like it will be the winner in this age of safety over liberty. Some states are even going so far as to eliminate the need for annual stickers on their license plates as the scanning technology makes them redundant. Pennsylvania claims they will save $3.1 million annually from not having to print and mail new stickers. That buys even more license plate scanners for law enforcement!

We all understand the use of license plate scanners for law enforcement and tolls and I believe we also understand scanning of plates in parking lots to determine parking fines. But what about your drive through lane at your local coffee or donut shop? Picture you driving into the parking lot or the drive thru lane of your favourite coffee shop they greet you with your usual, custom order already on the screen or ready on the counter. They may even offer you discounts based on purchase history and upsell you to a higher margin item.  Knowing who buys and what they buy is vital to the growth of many businesses. This is why loyalty points programs are so effective. Scanning your license plate as you enter the drive thru lane is an extension of this however you have never opted in to allowing the establishment to track you in this way. This is not the future. This technology is being tested right now and will soon be deployed in many, many locations. The question I have for you is the next time you drive up and your amercano misto with coconut milk is ready before you even order, will you be happy or will you deem this an invasion of your privacy?

With technology comes challenges. Save time and money and get better service? Or be tracked everywhere you drive, everyday. The question to ask is who is tracking the trackers? Is this data kept in individual silos or will it be rolled up together and big brother really will be linking together your every move?  Let us know what you think!


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