Over the past year, local residents may have noticed Sacramento Police “cameras” posted throughout major intersections in Sacramento with their flashing blue lights and intimidatingly branded “POLICE” markings. While these devices may look like cameras, they are in fact Police Observation Devices or PODs. According to the Sacramento Police Department press release, “the primary goal of this device is to serve as a highly visible crime deterrent. The PODS are clearly marked with a police logo and a flashing blue light to maximize its effect as a crime prevention tool.” The observation devices are equipped with license plate reading ability and are able to quickly scan plates and alert officers of stolen vehicles or other vehicles associated with a crime.
However, the use of next-generation technology has prompted privacy concerns from citizens, who are worried about the abuse of information by officials. The American Civil Liberties Union website states its concern of having an “enormous databases of innocent motorists’ location information are growing rapidly…with few or no restrictions to protect privacy rights” and furthermore calls for the adoption of legislation and law enforcement agency policies adhering to strict privacy principles in order to prevent the government from tracking movements on a massive scale.
In California, to help alleviate the privacy concern, Sen. Hill introduced SB-34 Automated License Plate Recognition Systems: Use of Data which was subsequently approved by the governor in October 2015 and codified into law as California Civil Code 1798.29. California Civil Code 1798.29 attempts to regulate how agencies handle personal information and dictates what officials need to do to ensure that personal information is not breached, and if it is, what steps need to be taken to alert the individual of the breach. The law requires that the security breach notification to the individual be written in plain language and to present the information under clearly defined easy to read headings.
Even with ongoing privacy concerns, overall it seems that the PODs have at least been successful in recovering stolen vehicles. In January 2015, the Sacramento Bee reported that “technology helped the CHP recover 1,524 stolen vehicles statewide in 2014 and led to 194 arrests”.