A growing number of cameras — hundreds around Los Angeles, thousands nationwide — are engaged in a simple pursuit: Taking pictures of license plates.
The digital photos, automatically snapped by cameras mounted on cars and street poles and then tagged with time and location, are transmitted to massive databases running on remote computer servers. Cops can then search those databases to track the past whereabouts of drivers.
Law enforcement officials say the data collection is invaluable for tracking down stolen cars and catching fugitives.
But such databases are also being built by private firms, which can sell access to anyone willing to pay, such as lenders, repo workers and private investigators. That is raising worries among privacy advocates and lawmakers, who say the fast-growing industry is not only ripe for conflicts of interest but downright invasive. Continue