Does Maryland Use Surveillance Cameras?January 29, 2020
Many states, including Maryland, use traffic cameras to enforce speed limits and identify vehicles that run through red lights. However, Maryland will also be using the data collected by the surveillance cameras to track motorists and study traffic patterns to identify where there are significant traffic issues. Depending on the method of information collection, the state will collect anonymous and identifiable information, which has privacy advocates concerned.
As of 2018, there are 420 automatic license plate readers across Maryland that register more than 450 million scans. The images collected include the make and model of the vehicle, information about the driver and the passengers in the car, distinguishing features like damage to the vehicle and the state of registration. The data is stored in a server at the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center. Legally, the scans cannot be stored for more than a year unless they can be used as evidence in a criminal investigation. For example, data can be used to notify police if a license plate is connected to a crime.
Addressing Privacy Concerns
According to the Public Information Act, personal data that is stored on the server cannot be accessed, and can only be released if an outside agency makes a formal request, which must meet the “need to know” and “right to know” guidelines. The Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center received 3,476 requests for scanned information, of which 2,179 were released. Eighty-one of the 420 readers were at fixed locations and 339 were mobile, which were attached to law enforcement vehicles. A senior investigative researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation said that mobile readers allow police officers to drive through specific areas or neighborhoods and collect information. It is a slippery slope toward an authoritarian state.
However, according to the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center Director, the readers are a valuable tool that law enforcement can use to locate criminals, find stolen vehicles, and solve crimes. He recognizes the privacy issues and said that an officer must have a valid reason for stopping a vehicle. They must also verify the result through their computer or with a dispatcher.
Other anonymous tracking methods are used to make decisions about traffic, infrastructure, and construction projects. In September, the Board of Public Works approved a contract that allowed cell phone data to be collected. This data will focus on the Baltimore Beltway-Interstate Route 70 interchange near Woodlawn. The goal is to monitor traffic, not individual drivers.
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