Dallas License-Plate Cameras Raise Privacy Concerns

Plan for cameras that scan license plates could store tag information for years

By Ken Kalthoff
|  Wednesday, Jan 9, 2013  |  Updated 9:52 PM CDT
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Dallas police will soon have a new tool to fight crime, new cameras and software will allow officers to scan license plates on vehicles, but there's some concern about the privacy of innocent people.

Ken Kalthoff, NBC 5 News

Dallas police will soon have a new tool to fight crime, new cameras and software will allow officers to scan license plates on vehicles, but there's some concern about the privacy of innocent people.

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Dallas will be one of the nation's largest cities to use license plate-tracking cameras, the police chief says.

The City Council on Wednesday approved a plan to mount 14 cameras on Dallas police squad cars to scan vehicles on streets.

The plan includes more than $3 million worth of special software that allows the cameras to instantly alert police about stolen cars or wanted drivers. Much of the money comes from confiscated drug money.

And most city leaders welcomed the plan that would mount 14 more of the license-tag cameras on utility poles in high-crime areas.

"Most people in and around drug houses are wanted for crimes and so, if we use this right and protect privacy, Dallas will be safer," Police Chief David Brown said.

Unlike the surveillance cameras Dallas police use to watch for crimes in progress, the license-scanning camera equipment could store tag information to be used years later.

Councilwoman Angela Hunt said it raises invasion of privacy fears because information on innocent people could also be held and tracked by police.

"I'm concerned about how it will be retained, and it is setting up a system where this could be abused in the future," she said.

Hunt voted against the plan, but all the other council members voted yes.

"It's our job to use power in a thoughtful and disciplined manner," Mayor Mike Rawlings said.

Council members want to review the privacy policy for the license-plate cameras before they are ready for use by Dallas police in April.

Carrollton and some other smaller cities already use the technology.

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