- Associated Press - Thursday, March 13, 2014

Aberdeen American News, Aberdeen, March 12, 2014

License plate readers a good tool, but worth watching

When two citizens went before the Aberdeen City Council Monday night to express their concerns about the use of license plate readers by police, they spoke for many residents.

The comments on the American News Facebook page, for instance, have seemed to be strongly against Aberdeen police’s use of the scanners mounted on two cars, concerned over the potential for misuse and of privacy.

We take those concerns seriously, too, and tend to advocate in favor of the liberty of Aberdonians to drive down the road without undue suspicion.

In a meeting with the editorial board Monday, Police Chief Don Lanpher Jr. explained the police’s use of the scanners and acknowledged the concerns of the public.

We agree with Lanpher the scanners can be a useful tool for law enforcement and, in this case, don’t seem to infringe on anyone’s privacy.

Lanpher explained that the license plate reader, by a company called Vigilant Solutions, only collects data and matches it against another police database that is a compilation of information collected by local law enforcement.

The plate readers won’t give police a match on, say, traffic violations, which are handled in a different database, Lanpher said.

What police are looking for are matches related to burglaries and break-ins. They check that sex offenders are not in areas they shouldn’t be. They can match plates for Amber or Silver alerts.

And the technology is only making data simpler to track.

According to Vigilant Solutions, Aberdeen is the first city in South Dakota to use the technology. But it has been used - some would say misused - in other states.

Vigilant Solutions is suing the state of Utah for banning automated, high-speed cameras for taking pictures of license plates.

Lanpher insists that an audit of the database provides the checks and balances needed to be sure no one abuses the records, such as what happened to a Minnesota police officer, who was awarded $1 million in 2012 after it was learned colleagues had accessed her private driver’s license information hundreds of times.

The public has a reasonable expectation of privacy. But license plates are not private. The kind of cars we are seen driving on city streets are not private.

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