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Guest Opinion

Are We Willing to Lose More Privacy?

The Talbotton New Era of Talbotton, Georgia

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I like tag readers.

Seeing tag readers mounted on police vehicles has become more and more frequent.

This is great technology that allows for the nearly instantaneous scanning of vehicle tags, most often from a patrol car. Scanned, read and analyzed by a computer system, the officer is notified immediately of a problem with a tag.

Such a problem could be something minor, somebody simply forgot to renew the tag registration, or it could be something major such as a stolen vehicle, or an Amber alert associated with a missing child.

My experience has been that where tag readers are being utilized, the number of drivers cited for a variety of issues, such as driving without insurance, have also increased.

There has also been a side benefit to tag readers, and that has been in solving criminal activity.

As an officer is on patrol, and the tag reader is scanning tags, that information is being recorded and kept.

Information scanned and recorded by tag readers has already been used to determine suspects in criminal activity.

I know of a burglary in the readership area of this newspaper group that was solved because of stored tag reader information. It just so happened that a tag reader was in use in the area of the burglary. Law enforcement officials reviewed tag numbers seen in that area. That information coupled with eyewitness information on a suspect vehicle led the officers to the individual committing the crime.

Just recently in another state, a murder was solved because of stored tag reader information.

I have no problem with such information about my driving habits being stored and viewed — as long as such review is being conducted by the proper officials.

But there is the problem.

COMPUTER systems are subject to being hacked.

All too often we hear of customer information, including extremely personal information, being hacked from the computer systems used by retail stores, banks, numerous other companies and even the Infernal Revenue Service.

A news report surfaced last week indicating that an organization called the Electronic Frontier

Foundation found footage taken from tag readers that was being posted online. Apparently this information was not protected — not even with basic password protocols.

This means that anyone with a bit of technological expertise could learn about you and your driving habits. They can learn where you live, where you visit, where you work and more important when you are typically not at home because the spotting of your tag is being recorded and kept.

The report suggested that some of this tag reader information was available via live stream, in near real time.

That is starting to become scary.

While I have nothing to hide and certainly do not mind law enforcement agencies — or even my wife — seeing where I am or where I go, or even where I might have been, I do not like such information being available to just anybody.

Privacy groups, along with the ACLU, have expressed concern over not only the information on your motoring habits being stored, but the potential misuse of such information.

"License plate readers would pose few civil liberty risks if they only checked plates against hot lists and these hot lists were implemented soundly," says ACLU officials. "But these systems are configured to store the photograph, the license plate number, and the date, time and location where all vehicles are seen — not just the data of vehicle that generate hits."

The ability to hack that information simply ? adds more fuel to that fire.

It is largely up to the individual law enforcement agency to determine where and how long such records are kept.

I believe it is inevitable that at some point a lawsuit regarding the use of tag readers and stored information will happen.

I urge our area law enforcement agencies to move now to protect the gathered information before they find themselves on the defensive in court answering tough questions on how the private information of law-abiding citizens was hacked and used.

That would be a bad event for all involved, especially to the law enforcement community.

Copyright 2015 The Talbotton New Era, Talbotton, Georgia. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015

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