These are not just “license plate readers.” The cameras, now being installed around town for use by the Providence Police Department, will run 24-hours/day and will be recording much more data than your plate (see image below). Fortunately, some City Council members are tapping the brakes on this intrusive technology. Last night Helen Anthony, Rachel Miller, Katherine Kerwin, and John Goncalves were to introduce a resolution calling for the PPD to “halt its implementation of license plate cameras until the council can review plans for their use.” (ProJo 7.21.22)
The WPRI report from Steph Machado reminds us that these are not like existing cameras which are tripped only after a violation has been committed. These Flock cameras are just on all the time. Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island, is also alarmed:
“We believe that if you’re going to have something as intrusive as this type of surveillance, it’s something that needs vetting by the city or town council,” Brown said. “Limitations on how these cameras are used need to be put in ordinance, so everybody is aware on how they can and how they cannot be used.”
The most horrifying statement comes from Council President John Igliozzi:
“If you’re not a criminal, you have nothing to fear over these cameras.”
Thank you President Xi, but that’s not how things are supposed to work in this country.
And surprise, surprise, the technology is being supplied free of charge for a year by the Flock Safety company. For more on that business model see: drug dealers, Sackler family, ice cream parlors. We should know by now that since the day that Sir Robert Peel invented police, no law enforcement entity has ever given up one single piece of technology ever.
Machado looked into where the candidates for the Mayor’s office stand:
Both Nirva LaFortune and Gonzalo Cuervo said they opposed the current camera rollout, while Brett Smiley indicated general support for the cameras.
That’s fine Brett. Just make sure there are no “unique alterations,” like rainbows, on your car.
(Image from Flock Safety.)
The RI ACLU also claims that the “license plate readers” can even search for cars by their bumper stickers! One victory for privacy rights: the Portsmouth Town Council just voted last week to rescind its support of the Flock camera system.
As we indicated in our testimony to the Council, the severe privacy implications, the potential for infringement on First Amendment rights, the lack of transparency surrounding the capabilities of the technology, and the absence of meaningful legal safeguards to hold Flock Safety and municipal law enforcement departments accountable in making use of the surveillance technology all point to the need to reject it without robust substantive statutory safeguards in place.
(Disclosure: I am a former Providence cop.)