Another Brick in the Wall: A National License Plate Tracking (ALPR) Network Announced

By Shelia Dunn, NMA Communications Director and Joe Cadillic, MassPrivatel Blog

Private company Flock Safety recently announced that it had created a national license plate tracking network. Bad enough that local police and private companies use automated license plate readers to watch where all of us are coming and going. Now the data will be linked to whoever has enough cash to pay to find out where you’ve gone.

Back in September 2019, a different private company, Rekor Systems, announced that it was building a 30-state, real-time ALPR database for police. Pretty soon, there will be layers upon layers of networks for license plate data and forget personal privacy—because there won’t be any.

Joe wrote about the Flock Safety announcement last week on his MassPrivatel Blog:

My heart sank when CNET reported that Flock Safety had created a national license plate tracking program. Flock Safety’s business model has been profiting from peoples’ fears about crime for years.

Flock Safety has turned fear and suspicion into a national business model, where anyone and everyone is a suspect.

“Flock Safety, which makes a license plate reader, announced the Total Analytics Law Officers Network, or TALON. The network looks to connect the 400 law enforcement agencies using its cameras, allowing agencies that opt in to view camera data from other regions.” 

Flock Safety, once relegated to tracking vehicle license plates in America’s white-collar neighborhoods, and has now gone national.

“The company said it has cameras in 700 cities, essentially creating a nationwide camera network for tracking car movements if they’re all connected.” 

It is hard to put into words how disgusted I feel about private corporations using fear to justify tracking everyone, so I will let Flock Safety explain it.

“TALON – the Total Analytics Law Officer’s Network is the only ethically-designed local and national network of ALPRs for law enforcement officers.”

Flock Safety’s “ethically-designed” national license plate tracking network is named after a bird of prey’s claws, called TALON.

Flock Safety’s explanation of how TALON is “ethically-designed” to surveil the entire country is mind-boggling.

“Flock Safety was founded with two core beliefs:

    1. It’s possible to leverage technology to eliminate crime and
    2. It’s possible to build technology within an ethical framework that protects privacy.

Like our core products, all the vehicle data in TALON automatically, and by default, deletes every 30 days on a rolling basis, unless under subpoena or a democratically elected governing body legislates a different retention period.” 

Flock Safety’s explanation warrants two responses.

1.) Flock Safety wants Americans to believe that creating a national license plate tracking network will eliminate crime. But the fact is, Americans have been experiencing near-record-low crime rates for years. USA Today said, “The United States is safer than it has been for as far back as many Americans can remember.”

All of this without the need for a national license plate tracking network.

2.) Flock Safety claims all data automatically delete by default every 30 days, except it does not. If Flock Safety receives a subpoena from a democratically elected governing body. i.e., law enforcement or a bird of prey, their “ethically-designed” data will reappear.

So the reality is, no one’s license plate data is safe from TALON’s surveillance.

Flock Safety also works with AXON (TASER) to “make it easier and more cost-effective for police departments to deploy a smart, ethically-designed network of both fixed and mobile Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) capabilities.” 

Read for yourself Flock Safety’s list 15 ethical recommendations on the use of ALPRs and the data.

Flock Safety maintains that it will not own the footage…only the customers own it (this does not mean vehicle owners).

Again, from Joe’s Massprivatel Post last week:

Meaning if law enforcement uses TALON to track innocent people, it’s not their fault because they do not retain any rights to the data. Flock Safety gets my vote for “best doublespeak of 2020.”

Does anyone other than Flock Safety think that their partnership with TASER is ethical?

To call a national tracking network, “ethically-designed” is misleading and repugnant to anyone who values their privacy.

For Additional Reading on ALPRs:

From the National Motorists Association Blog: 

From the MassPrivatel Blog:

If you would like to keep track of the many issues currently involved in street surveillance, check out Joe’s blog called MassPrivatel. Every Monday, Joe includes on his blog a vast list of headlines from around the world on surveillance in general.

Also, the National Motorists Association has street surveillance news on the NMA’s Driving News Feed, updated daily. Also, subscribe to Driving News Daily Top 6 Headlines, a five times per week email.

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