Up until April 2016, New Hampshire was the only state in the US that prohibited police departments from using automatic license plate readers on their cars. A bill proposed by a Republican Representative and signed by Governor Maggie Hassan eliminated that ban. A little over two years later, a town of 1700 residents has become the first one in New Hampshire to employ this newly allowed device that the state has granted police the authority to use.
On June 7th, The Union Leader reported that Lincoln would be the first New Hampshire town to take advantage of the state’s removal of the license plate reader (LPR) ban.
The above-referenced article mentions that the Lincoln Police Chief, Ted Smith commented on the new car-mounted cameras: “We’re very excited about this”. Should average (non-police) residents of New Hampshire be excited about this new police tool, though?
The new cameras (which taxpayers will be forced to pay for) will perpetually take pictures of every single license plate that they encounter. They can each photograph 1500 license plates per minute. Theoretically, the Lincoln police could violate the privacy of every single resident in the town in just over a minute! Police unions and other tyrants would argue that “if you have nothing to hide, you should have no problem with LPRs” and “it will only be used to catch those who kidnap children and murder people”. How could you oppose such a program?
This new style of ‘presumed-guilt’ policing is dystopian, to be quite frank. I am sure that government lawyers could successfully defend this program in front of judges (who also work for the government) by using the ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ defense. Passing judicial muster has lost its significance, though. While people do not expect absolute privacy when they are on public roads, they do have a reasonable expectation to not have their license plates scanned and run against police databases, especially if they have not even been pulled over or suspected of a traffic violation.
When a person is pulled over by a police officer, the technical term is that the driver is being ‘detained’ due to the cop having some level of ‘suspicion’ that a (traffic violation or) crime has been committed. Most pro-government individuals agree that if an officer thinks that a person may have violated a traffic law, the officer can legally and ethically run their license at the roadside. While I find this anti-freedom scenario repugnant, the LPR program is much more authoritarian. The camera causes every single driver to be investigated despite ZERO SUSPICION existing. Simply having a car parked on the street while a cop car passes it by and scans the license plate has now become the reality for drivers in New Hampshire.
The legality and morality of the automatic license plate readers do not matter to police departments, though. Police departments will continue to do whatever they can get away with. If the law allows for them to do this, they will do it. If something is prohibited by law, police can still do it. Unless the government chooses to prosecute them and a government judge chooses to curtail their powers, police will have limitless tools to use against us. And this will not be the last tool they utilize in their quest to abolish the concepts of privacy and freedom.
We cannot rely on Representatives, Senators, the Governor, lawyers, judges, or police to protect our privacy. In fact, they are the very people who are violating our privacy! What will we, the citizenry do to protect our privacy and the privacy of our children? Is it wise to continue to grant the government increasing amounts of power? Is it wise to continue to sacrifice our freedom and privacy for the promise of ‘safety’?