In the last issue we looked at a new form of cybertracking, license plate recognition or LPR, its origins and industry usage. While this new and innovative technology is a great aid to the skip trace and asset recovery industry, it raises numerous issues related to invasion of privacy. In this issue we will look at the pros and cons of LPR technology usage including the pressing issue of privacy.
Private sector mobile LPR applications have been utilized for surveillance, vehicle location and recovery, asset discovery and numerous other uses in the collection and repossession industry. However, the application of LPR by private companies to collect information from privately owned vehicles or collected from private property (for example, driveways and business parking areas) has become an issue of sensitivity and public debate as the usage continues in most states.
One of the major concerns tracers who use this technology should be that the cameras capture images of all cars scanned, not just those of nonperforming consumers. The information obtained from these scans is often used for more than just the credit, collection and repossession industry skip tracing. The location data which is gathered by the repossession and towing companies’ camera cars and other vehicles with LPR cameras is fed into private databases and then sold without the knowledge or consent of the owner or driver of the vehicle. There’s no opting out of this tracking; anyone who drives a car with a license plate will eventually be entered into these private databases.
Who Wants This Information?
There are many private sector companies which are in the market for this valuable location information including insurance companies, lending institutions, retailers and city, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies. There are no laws limiting who may purchase and access the billions of records gathered and stored in the LPR databases. The legions of “privacy advocates” and the general populace seem to have no expectation of privacy in public. But in the industry there is much warranted concern that LPR technology is outpacing the laws.
As we now know the cons and decide to use LPR to locate non-performing consumers, where do the tracers go to access this cyber technology, how can the data be utilized and what are the costs become the question?
Where Is This Information?
The private companies who own the two major databases are MVTRAC (mvtrac.com) and DRN (drndata.com). Both were started by people in the credit, collection and repossession industry who understand the value of this type of data. These two companies claim to have amassed databases of over a billion records and they include not just the license plate, but other data a tracer can use such as the time, the date and the location that plate was collected. The claim includes that LPR cameras can capture up to 1600 license plates per hour, creating a digital snapshot of the consumer’s lifestyle – where they go, who they see and when they see them. The location where the consumer is located may be their employer, residence, relatives or any place they frequent on a regular basis at any recurring time. The possibilities are limitless for the tracer. If the credit-reporting agencies, who already hold the consumer’s entire financial history, purchase LPR Data and combine location and travel information with financial information they will have an enormous amount of data on consumers, their individual habits and traffic patterns.
Closing Window of Opportunity
Tracers, this is now an open window but it may close at any time. In California, two bills that would have restricted the sharing and selling of license plate data were defeated in the past two years, I am sure the issues, is not forgotten. LPR, another tool in the professional tracers’ tool bag.