Idaho: License plate readers can help solve crimes, but also raise privacy concerns

On March 26, the Idaho Falls Police Department was notified that a car driving on Interstate 15 had been flagged by an automatic license plate reader. The vehicle was suspected in Minnesota of being involved with drug smuggling.

The car’s driver did not properly signal before switching lanes, and was traveling slightly above the speed limit, enough to allow an officer to make a traffic stop. A K-9 officer was called in, and police found 42 pounds of marijuana in the car. Sam Said Shoua Lao and Destiny Vang, both of Minnesota, were charged for drug possession.

Automated license plate readers can allow law enforcement to locate vehicles suspected to be involved in a variety of crimes, including grand theft auto, kidnapping and drug trafficking.

But the technology has had its share of controversy. Privacy rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say the readers are a form of mass surveillance.