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Many police municipalities are watching you and your car. And it’s not just cameras, but also artificial intelligence (AI) that is watching and assessing where you drive and more. It accumulates your different trips, including how long you stay at any given destination, looking for “suspicious” patterns. Whether justified or not, you’re a target for tracking. 

With a combination of AI data and the ability to scan over 1.6 billion license plate records, Westchester County Police in New York caught a drug trafficker in 2022. He was driving a pedestrian gray Chevrolet sedan at the posted speed limit at the time of apprehension. AI had been tracking his car since 2020.

Are license plate readers only for license plates?

Security and ALPR cameras on signal light use AI to track drivers
Security and ALPR cameras on signal light | AFP/Getty

We’re told that license plate readers are only for tracking stolen cars or vehicles in specific crime activity. But in the case of this drug trafficker, neither applied. He was caught partially by studying the driving patterns of this specific license plate. 

Westchester County has 480 Automatic License Plate Recognition cameras to aid police. And those 480 cameras record 16 million license plates—every week. Most are stationary, but of the 480 camera systems, 46 are on police vehicles. 

When the Westchester Police stopped the vehicle and searched it, they found 112 grams of cocaine, a semiautomatic pistol, and $34,000 cash, according to Forbes. The driver later pled guilty. 

How widespread is Automatic License Plate Recognition?

Traffic management center in New York with screens and workers
Traffic management center in New York | Timothy Fadek/Corbis via Getty

But those Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) cameras do more than take a snapshot of license plates. They also record the make, color, and model of the vehicle the plate is on. So it is an aid to police but is also a “vast surveillance network that invades society’s reasonable expectation of privacy,” Westchester County attorney Ben Gold told Forbes.

Westchester County is not the only municipality that has deployed these license scanners. They’re in almost every state in America. And all of the municipalities utilizing the AI technology enthusiastically have data sharing with other neighboring municipalities without the systems. 

A minimum of 30 states use the same Westchester County surveillance system. The two largest technology companies making this type of surveillance equipment are Rekor and Flock. Others in AI surveillance are Motorola, Genetec, Jenoptik, and many others. Any city with speeding ticket cameras can have the plate reader technology added to them. 

What other entities use ALPRs?

Three traffic cameras on pole
Traffic cameras | Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg via Getty

But municipalities aren’t the only users of plate reading equipment. Parking lots, casinos, fast-food chains, and private individuals have all purchased Rekor or Flock systems. Mcdonald’s and White Castle already use ALPR at some locations. And while it is perfectly legal to deploy, the legality of using it against private citizens is a question mark. 

But so much of ALPR is already set up and recording there isn’t a way to pull back. It’s too late. So for those concerned about privacy, bringing it up now is too late in the discussion. Or rather, the deployment of cameras aimed at you, recording your every move. 


License Plate Readers: What Do ALPR, LPR, ANPR, and LPC Mean?