The 21st century has seen a surge in surveillance, particularly with the integration of AI tools. These tools, while advanced, have raised concerns due to state agencies’ questionable deployment beyond public authorization. One notable AI application is the Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) system, which not only identifies and tracks vehicles but also gathers details like color, make, and model. Law enforcement uses this technology to analyze driving patterns, with cameras scanning millions of vehicles daily. Companies like Rekor have commercialized this tech, selling it to various police departments.

 

ALPR systems can be both stationary, mounted on structures like traffic lights, and mobile, attached to police vehicles. These systems capture license plates, with private firms like Vigilant Solutions collecting this data for government agencies. Advanced ALPRs utilize AI for upscaling and visual reconstruction, ensuring accurate data capture even from fast-moving vehicles or at long distances. AI’s integration has made these systems more efficient and cost-effective, with some ALPR machines now available for a monthly fee instead of a hefty upfront cost.

 

ALPR cameras log every spotted license plate into vast databases, enabling law enforcement to track a vehicle’s history. For instance, an AI analyzed a database containing 1.6 billion license plates over two years to help police apprehend a drug dealer in New York. Companies like Rekor offer surveillance plans that can detail a vehicle’s color, make, model, and direction. The convenience and efficiency of this technology are undeniable, with Rekor’s system capable of scanning 150 million plates monthly without needing new cameras.

 

However, the reach of ALPR technology extends beyond law enforcement. Companies like Flock and Rekor have massive license plate databases, which experts warn could be misused. Commercial entities, such as casinos and fast-food chains, are also adopting this technology. For instance, McDonald’s, in collaboration with MasterCard, uses license plate data to enhance customer experience. The global reach of ALPR tech is expanding, with American companies selling to other nations, highlighting the need for stringent regulations to prevent potential privacy violations.

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