GRAPEVINE — It's too bad cars can't smile, because they're constantly on camera. And American Civil Liberties Union is worried that cameras are tracking our travels.
"You can tell an awful lot of very personal information from where people travel during a given day," said Kurt Schwarz, president of the board of directors of the ACLU of Texas.
Cities across the nation — including many in North Texas — have started using automatic license plate readers in the past few years. The cameras snap pictures of plates, then a computer searches a database to see if the car is stolen or has been used in a crime.
If so, police are alerted.
"No trouble," said Schwarz.
But that's not what bothers the ACLU. "The trouble is in the storage, and how that stored data is used," he said.
In Grapevine, 10 cameras snap pictures of plates at Grapevine Mills Mall. Mesquite has the cameras inside police cruisers.
The ACLU reviewed police departments across the country and found both Mesquite and Grapevine have stored those images indefinitely. Both cities say they are in the process of changing their policies.
"We're not out there trying to pick on the public, and we're not trying to analyze people's movements; we're simply trying to do our jobs, and that's fight crime," explained Grapevine police spokesman Sgt. Robert Eberling. "The basis of putting those cameras out there is really to protect the public. We've made several arrests since we put them in place."
Eberling said Grapevine will soon adopt a policy that will likely mean they store the images for about a year. Mesquite expects to adopt a two-year storage policy soon.
Schwarz said there should be regulations or some sort of uniform policy governing how long this type of data is retained and how it can be used. He used an example of an attorney in a divorce case trying to subpoena the data in order to show a spouse's movements.
"Unless there are policies that protect the interest of those being tracked, the ACLU has a problem with this technology," Schwarz said.
But Eberling said the technology has helped catch identity thieves. He adds that if a child was abducted at the mall, the images would be priceless.