As government agencies and law enforcement departments increasingly adopt big-data surveillance technologies as part of their routine investigatory practice, personal information privacy concerns are becoming progressively more palpable. On the other hand, advancing technologies and data-mining potentially offer law enforcement greater ability to detect, investigate, and prosecute criminal activity. These concerns (for personal information privacy and the efficacy of law enforcement) are both very important in contemporary society. On one view, American privacy law has not kept up with advancing technological capabilities, and government agencies have arguably begun to overstep the acceptable boundaries of information access, violating the privacy of their citizens and decreasing the relevancy of the Fourth Amendment. On another, crime has decreased significantly over the past few decades, thanks in part to more effective and efficient policing, and criminal activity has become more technologically advanced as well; to unduly limit police would hamper legitimate efforts to keep our communities safe from serious crime. Despite decades of increasingly safer streets and fewer instances of serious police-citizen violence in America, the police continue to hold a highly criticized role in society. Indeed, most recent press about police use of big data technologies has focused on the negative implications that these developments have on citizen privacy—which is a very important concnern –but less attention has been given to balancing these privacy interests with the important societal interest in promoting effective and efficient police work. The tensions between these competing, equally legitimate aims is substantial and, in the context of police use of automated license plate recognition (ALPR) systems, limiting the scope of law enforcement data retention to protect citizen privacy (one option that has begun to find traction in Canada and in some U.S. states) might also protect the privacy of the police officers using these systems, as disclosure of these databases to the public under freedom of information (FOI) laws can allow citizens to track the historical policing patterns of individual officers.
Bryce C. Newell,
Local Law Enforcement Jumps on the Big Data Bandwagon: Automated License Plate Recognition Systems, Infomation Privacy, and Access to Government Information,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol66/iss2/4