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Walker County applies for grant that may bring license plate trackers to Huntsville

Senior Reporter

Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Updated: Thursday, October 4, 2012 01:10

Walker County has applied for a State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) grant this year that will be used to purchase license plate readers if it is awarded.

The license plate readers, also known as automatic license plate readers (ALPR), tracks license plate locations through either small car-mounted cameras or stationary cameras.

The cameras record not only the plate, but also the time, date and location of every car they see and store the information.

"The 2012 grant will be for the license plate readers to be stationed in different locations," Butch Davis, Walker County’s Chief Deputy and Emergency Management Coordinator, said.

License plate readers are said to be used for locating stolen vehicles and criminals, but others view them as a violation of privacy.

While police can potentially use the information in cases against criminals, the data can also be accessed by anybody who files a public records request.

Alongside law enforcement officials, vehicle repossession companies and actual owners of stolen vehicles can very easily retrieve this data. That being said, so can anybody interested or even potential stalkers. This raises worry among privacy advocates.

"Tracking and recording people’s movements raises serious privacy concerns. Where we go can reveal a great deal about us, including visits to doctor’s offices, political meetings, and friends. Without probable cause, that’s none of the government’s business," Terri Burke, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas said in a press release this summer.

According to the same press release the ACLU and the ACLU of Texas filed federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Transportation to learn how the federal government funds ALPR expansion nationwide and uses the technology.

The grants Walker County applies for are requested with specific needs and set amounts in mind. The county has received six grants since 2009 ranging from $159,996.46 to $23,408.26. Three of these grants were from the SHSP and three were from the Citizen Corps Program (CCP). The CCP grants have been used to aid Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) by outfitting them with supplies, tools and a trailer. According to the Walker County auditor office, a purchase order has been issued for the cameras, but the invoice has not been paid yet. For this reason, of the $91,587.16 requested, $48,387.16 has been used.

The three SHSP grants had the purposes of developing and enhancing interoperable communications, further enhancement of interoperable communication and to purchase and install security cameras in county facilities. Laptops and equipment for police cars, fire services, other law enforcement and EMS were purchased as well as cameras and installing supplies. These SHSP-paid-for items totaled $375,159.46 out of the overall requested $375,996.46.


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