Back in 2008, the Portland police department implemented a city-wide license plate reading system. Sixteen of the 300 cars in the department have a reader consisting of four high tech cameras with night vision capability. They scan the plates of every car they see, and the information is checked for a match against their database. If they find one, then an alert is sent out. If not, then the information is deleted.
Haha, no. Just kidding. They keep it in an “ever-growing database”. But don’t worry. Sgt. Pete Simpson tells us that they can only access it if they’re “investigating a criminal incident”, and that they’re deleted after four years. I’d like to believe that’s true for now, but if the information exists then there’s no guarantee whatsoever that circumstances won’t change and either its retention or access to it will remain as conditional as it is now.
This also sounds a lot like another thing I’ve seen in the news recently. I can’t quite place it, though …
For as unsettling as I find this whole thing, I find this part nothing more than insult to injury:
“One piece of the policy specifically we worked with the ACLU on is going to religious gatherings or religious events. It’s expressly forbidden in our policy to send one of these cars there for the purposes of gathering information. Certainly in a big city you have people driving by churches all the time. It doesn’t mean you have to turn it off when you go by a church, but it means if there is a big rally on the waterfront, we’re not going to send a plate-reader car to go through the parking lot for intelligence purposes.”
This makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. It’s not as if churchgoers have any superior ethical code or are guided by a more steady moral compass than the rest of us heathen slobs . They’re not. It’s also not as if they stay there, either. So why are they – or churches, even – afforded some sort of exception to the plate scanning program when mall parking lots, parking garages, sports stadiums, corporate parks, supermarkets, and any other non-religious gathering places are – if I understand the article – all fair game? You’d think that the one place on the list that gets instant tax exemption would be a little bit more subject to government scrutiny, but I guess not.
I don’t know. I’m not even insulted or offended. This just sounds so dumb that I’m left scratching my head because I have to be missing something. Doing this serves no purpose other than to tiptoe around some kind of religious sensibility for no good reason, especially if they don’t have a problem canvassing everywhere else frequented by secular and religious folks alike.
[Becky Straus, the legislative director for ACLU of Oregon] said the police bureau did work with the ACLU as it wrote the policy about a year ago, but hasn’t talked much about it since.
I think you guys might be about due, then.