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By Jordan W. Charness

I was recently hired to become a part-time college law professor, and I’m now teaching law to up-and-coming police officers in a Police Technologies program. Being involved in the training of the police gives this defence lawyer a whole different perspective on how things are done, as I get to hear about things that others may or may not know about and share them with you.

There’s nothing secret about these things but sometimes the publicity machine can miss out on certain aspects that may affect us on a daily basis, like this one: there’s a neat bit of technology that is now being used in various cities to help capture people with outstanding warrants or unpaid traffic tickets. Field tests have ended and some police officers in certain cities will now be using a new digital camera system that can monitor over 100,000 license plates a day!

These cameras are mounted on some police cars and actively scan all of the license plates they come across and quickly check them with a data bank to see if the registered owner of that vehicle has any outstanding warrants, unpaid traffic tickets, unpaid registration for the car or a host of other legal problems.

In addition, the new camera system will check to see if the car has been reported as being stolen, if the license plates have been stolen, or even if the owner of the car has paid for his or her driver’s license. The system is so sophisticated that it even uses GPS technology to keep track of the car that it noticed and even call in other police cars to intercept the suspect car to deal with what ever the camera system has found.

It has long been a significant part of a traffic policeman’s job to double-check for outstanding warrants and other irregularities every time they pull over someone to give him or her a ticket. What this new system does is to alert the police officer of possible illegalities even without the necessity of the police officer first having made any type of stop.

This does of course mean that you can be driving in a perfectly legal matter and still be pulled over by the police because the Big Brother camera has noted that your driver’s license has not yet been paid for!

I have not yet seen any cases where this type of stop has been challenged in the courts as being an illegal stop and whether or not the “Big Brother” camera will be considered sufficient “probable cause” that would allow someone to be pulled over.

In general the police are not allowed to pull you over or stop you unless they have probable cause to believe that you have committed a crime or are in the process of committing one. A problem that I can foresee with this system is that the driver and the owner of the car may well be two different people. The camera system is based on the registered owner of the license plate and car. The person being pulled over however will certainly not be the owner of the vehicle in all circumstances.

Since the driver was not breaking any laws while driving, will “Big Brother” be considered a sufficient excuse in the eyes of the law to inconvenience an innocent driver and make him or her subject to a police intercept?

It will be interesting to see what the courts have to say as more and more cities install this type of camera system. But one thing is for sure: those people who know that they have irregularities in their driving records can no longer count on being anonymous and hidden by the hundreds of thousands of cars on the road.

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