American law enforcement are now using AI-powered license plate recognition systems to identify “suspicious” patterns of movement by analyzing billions of license plate records. However, this new technology raises significant concerns about privacy and potential misuse.
Forbes reports that by examining billions of license plate records, AI is now assisting American law enforcement in locating “suspicious” movement patterns. This new technology raises serious concerns about privacy and potential abuse. One of the most significant deployments of this technology to date was in a drug trafficking case in New York.
The AI system flagged a vehicle, driven by David Zayas, as suspicious based on its travel patterns. Forbes reporter Thomas Brewster explains: “Searching through a database of 1.6 billion license plate records collected over the last two years from locations across New York State, the AI determined that Zayas’ car was on a journey typical of a drug trafficker.” The vehicle was subsequently pulled over, leading to the alleged discovery of drugs, a weapon, and a large sum of cash.
The AI system, developed by Rekor, is capable of scanning over 16 million license plates a week using 480 cameras. It also records details about the vehicles, such as make, model, and color. However, this extensive surveillance has sparked a debate about privacy rights and the potential for misuse.
Zayas’ lawyer, Ben Gold, argued against the AI-gathered evidence, describing it as “dragnet surveillance.” He stated, “With no judicial oversight this type of system operates at the caprice of every officer with access to it.” Gold further argued that the system’s analysis of every car caught by a camera amounted to an “unprecedented search” and invades society’s reasonable expectation of privacy.
Rekor’s technology has been sold to at least 23 police departments and local governments across America. The company’s software can be installed in already deployed cameras, whether owned by the government, a business, or a consumer. It also runs the Rekor Public Safety Network, an opt-in project that has been aggregating vehicle location data from customers for the last three years.
The use of license plate recognition technology is not limited to law enforcement. Companies like McDonalds and White Castle have begun using the technology to tailor drive-through experiences, detecting returning customers and using past orders to guide them through the ordering process or offer individualized promotion offers.
However, the expansion of this technology has raised alarms among privacy advocates. Brett Max Kaufman, senior staff attorney at the ACLU, described the warrantless monitoring of citizens en masse as “quite horrifying.” He warned, “You’ve seen the systems totally metastasize to the point that the capabilities of a local police department would really shock most people.”