U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Privacy and the impact of emerging surveillance technologies: The case of license plate recognition technology

NCJ Number
Judicature Volume: 96 Issue: 3 Dated: 2012 Pages: 119-126
Date Published
6 pages

After reviewing the technology of License Plate Recognition (LPR), this article reviews its actual and potential uses by law enforcement agencies, as well as how citizens view the police uses of LPR technology, based on a community survey in Fairfax County, Virginia.


LPR systems use cameras mounted on police cars or at fixed locations to capture and record license plate numbers of passing and stationary vehicles. The information recorded for inclusion in a police database are the date, time, and GPS location for each license plate captured. These data captured by LPR technology may be used by police to identify stolen vehicles, the location of cars owned by wanted persons, and routes traveled and locations of cars owned by specific individuals. Particular concerns of courts and citizens relate to the expectation of privacy regarding one's vehicular travels and places visited when no criminal activity is involved. The Fairfax County survey suggests that community residents have heard of LPR, but they do not know much about the technology or how it is used by police. The majority of respondents considered LPR data to be private information. When asked if LPR data storage by the police would impact the likelihood that they would "visit particular locations or events," 12.6 percent of respondents indicated they would be "much less likely" or somewhat less likely" to make this choice. Slightly more than one-fourth of respondents indicated that knowledge of LPR use by the police in their community would lead them to reduce parking or traffic violations. Overall, respondents who disapproved of LPR and those who supported immediate erasure of LPR data composed about one-fourth of the representative population. 65 notes

Date Published: January 1, 2012