Law Enforcement is Using License Plate Readers to “Grid” Entire Neighborhoods

By guest writer Joe Cadillic of the MassPrivatel Blog

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared as NMA E-Newsletter #554 from August 2019. If you would like to receive our weekly Email Newsletter, please join the NMA today and help us fight automated license plate readers or ALPRs wherever they might be. Since April 2020, guest writer Joe Cadillic also co-writes one of the new NMA biweekly blogs called Street Surveillance Watch.

Law Enforcement is Using License Plate Readers to “Grid” Entire Neighborhoods

What does gridding mean? The Arizona Mirror recently described it this way:

“As part of the training for the ALPR (automated license plate readers) systems, Chandler police officers are taught to “grid” neighborhoods during their downtime – systematically driving up and down every street in an area, indiscriminately scooping up information on vehicles.”

Gridding entire neighborhoods allow authorities to form a detailed and highly accurate pattern of everyone’s driving habits day and night, 24/7. It also enables the government to create mini-surveillance zones of entire neighborhoods.

There is no defense for police gathering intel on innocent people going about their daily activities, but that does not stop them from making up absurd excuses to justify it. Chandler, Arizona Police Department Commander Ed Upshaw compares police “gridding” to a YouTuber who records someone in public.

“If your vehicle is parked in a public place or visible from a publicly accessible place, it can be recorded by anyone. Is there a reason a YouTuber can record but police cannot?”

Comparing systematic police surveillance to a YouTuber recording people in public is like comparing apples to oranges.

Another excuse by government officials was reinforced by Massachusetts-based Federal Judge Robert Rufo, who recently ruled that police ALPR’s on bridges “was legal because the cameras only track movements on and off the Cape, and not movements across the state.”

What Rufo failed to mention is the only way for motorists to access the Cape is by travelling over those bridges. It might not be mass surveillance of drivers statewide, but it is certainly “Mass.” surveillance of Cape Cod motorists. (pun intended.)

Fast-food drive-thrus are also planning on using ALPRS and facial recognition to identify drivers and passengers according to an article on Fast food restaurants plan to use’s ALPRS to identify customers. Other facial recognition programs encourage customers to sign up by earning loyalty rewards points much like that of Hertz Global Holdings. (Editor’s Note: Hertz filed for bankruptcy in May 2020.)

Are the convenience and rewards of getting served faster more important than protecting individual privacies, particularly with often unclear opt-out opportunities?

What do you think?

Big Brother’s appetite for mass surveillance is appalling, and it effects everyone’s ability to travel freely. ACLU of Arizona Criminal Justice Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Arizona Jared Keenan warned:

“Police could grid low-income or minority neighborhoods more often, which could lead to over-policing of those neighborhoods—even if there are just as many crimes in rich, white areas.”

There is simply no excuse to “grid” entire neighborhoods or train police to “gather intel” on Americans without a warrant. This kind of activity goes against everything the United States was founded upon. Just because the surveillance technology is readily available does not mean that we should allow our rights to privacy to be trampled.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this newsletter are those of the author.

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