What if in the future individuals' movements were tracked wherever they went and that the information was stored by the government? While the Orwellian concept may seem extreme, it's something that privacy advocates like the American Civil Liberties Union say is closer to reality than many may realize. License plate readers or LPRs have become standard police equipment in Vermont and around the country. The cruiser-mounted devices allow law enforcement to collect the license plate of every car on the road.
In Vermont, all that data is funneled to a Homeland Security-funded fusion center in Williston where it is kept for four years. But a bill moving through the state Senate seeks to place limits on the amount of time the data is stored.
"If we want to get into a world where all the data that has ever tracked our whereabouts of what we've done-- be it cellphones, be it license plate readers, be it video cameras-- we're talking about the government having mountains of information that basically knows exactly where we've been 24/7, 365 days a year, all of your lives," said Allen Gilbert of the ACLU.
While the ACLU and public safety officials have found some common ground-- like placing tight restrictions on who can have access to the data, or what constitutes a legitimate law enforcement purpose-- a fundamental disagreement continues on the length of time the data should be stored. The ACLU says the norm around the country is 30 days. Public Safety officials say they are willing to reduce the number of years to one or two, but they're reluctant to go further.
From the O'Hagan murder case to Tuesday's shooting of a North Carolina trooper, police say LPRs are an invaluable tool.
"The North Carolina trooper that was shot yesterday-- we were able to plug that operator's vehicle into our LPR system. If in fact he wanted to come back home to Royalton, one of our LPRs could have picked him off the highway," Vt. State Police Col. Tom L'Esperance said.
Police say the readers can also prove someone is innocent.
"Because of the fact that we are in this new world and there are heinous crimes that occur to our most vulnerable people, I think sometimes that we have to give a little bit," said Sen. John Campbell, D-Vt. President Pro Tem. "The thought that we could have solved a murder or stopped a kidnapping of a child-- I'm willing to give up a little bit."
Lawmakers exploring the right balance between privacy and public safety.
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