Nine police cars in Henderson are now equipped with extra eyes - license plate scanners. Each vehicle has four cameras, and they have the ability to scan one plate each second or nearly 30,000 plates in an 8 hour shift. The device compares the plates it scans to a database of “wanted” license plates. The police say that the scanner records a plate only if it’s a match in the system, but the ACLU of Nevada is concerned about the privacy implications of this new scanning system.

Because the device can scan so many plates so quickly and has the ability to track and record information, it makes the potential for the police to track the whereabouts of innocent citizens much more real. Although the device is set to record matches to a criminal database, it theoretically could compare plates to any list or it could collect information of any license plate that it scans. Additionally, we know that criminal databases are subject to abuse by law enforcement and can also be hacked and tampered with.

“These technologies go far beyond what a law enforcement officer can do themselves,” said Maggie McLetchie, Legal Director for the ACLU of Nevada in an interview on KNPR's State of Nevada. “It’s ‘Big Brother’ where there’s cameras everywhere, where there’s the ability to track where our cars are going, what we’re doing, and when we’re doing it.”

With the leaps and bounds made in technology used to track down criminals, we have to be sure that the privacy protections keep up. As a society, we need to have a conversation about balancing the goal of preventing crime with the need to protect privacy. At the very least, if police are using such technology, we should enact legislation that puts explicit limits on its use and the storage and collection of personal information.

Listen to Maggie McLetchie discuss license plate scanners on KNPR’s State of Nevada.