CJ 210. Criminal Law
Read the attached Washington Post article titled “Feds seek to expand use of
license tag readers in Va.” Read also the supplemental information on the
case that is provided below.
Prince William County Virginia has been experimenting with special license plate
readers that can be set up at intersections and can read the number and letter
binations of every license plate that passes by. The license plates are
immediately electronically checked against a database of known stolen license
plates and license plates associated with stolen vehicles. The system could
easily be set up to track individuals associated to vehicles as well. Individuals
who are fugitives, people wanted for questioning by the police, individuals with
past due parking tickets, foreign nationals, suspected terrorists, parolees,
probationers could all be tracked from intersection to intersection. This
information could be passed onto intelligence agencies or could be used to build
profiles of suspicious individuals and their daily actions. This technology may
have huge privacy implications. The potential for abuse of this technology is
present as well. If the police have a suspect to a crime they will very likely use
the stored data to find that individuals whereabouts at the time the crime was
mitted. It has not been resolved whether it will take a court order to release
information from the database. The federal government now wants to expand the
program because of its viewed success.
This term paper is prised of five questions designed to test your legal
reasoning and sensitivity to social issues. Utilizing two to three pages each,
critically answer the following 5 broad questions. The term paper should be
approximately 5 to 8 pages in length. The questions are listed at the very end of
this assignment sheet. In answering the questions, document your responses
with support material taken from library sources, your textbook, or the Internet.
Be sure to give proper attribution to each source you document (e.g., provide
URLs for online sources).
Do not use this assignment to vent your personal opinions on the issues covered
in the case study. Your goal should be to present a fair and impersonal review of
the issues based on good legal reasoning, sensitivity to societal issues, and
The answers to each of the five questions should be roughly 1-2 pages long,
typed single spaced. Margins must be 1-inch on all sides. Pages beyond page 10
will neither be read nor graded.
Supplemental Information on the Case Study
July 16, 2008
By David Sherfinski
Feds seek to expand use of license tag readers in Va.
The federal government wants to expand a program that allows police to check license
plates for stolen vehicles to also search for the vehicles tied to known or suspected
terrorists, Prince William County police said Tuesday.
The Department of Homeland Security has asked for a grant proposal that would allow
automated license plate readers to be bought throughout Northern Virginia for the
purpose of pursuing “terrorist-type crimes,” county Detective Roland Mulligan said.
County police have recovered 10 stolen vehicles, located seven stolen license plates and
arrested four people in the six months that they have been using their two license plate
The plate reader also was used to apprehend one of the county’s top 10 parking violators
??" who had accumulated fines of more than $1,000 ??" in about 20 minutes, Mulligan
said. The license plate reader uses infrared cameras to automatically check plates against
a “hot list” that contains the license plates of every stolen vehicle in the U.S. and Canada,
“The camera takes a picture and checks the plate against the hot list in a matter of
milliseconds,” he said.
The Homeland Security grant money would be used by Northern Virginia police
departments to buy more readers.
Mulligan added that because all plates that register in the license plate reader must be
checked, there was little risk of pulling over a car that was not stolen, or “no more so than
in any other situation. You have to call it in. The data could be 24 hours old.
“If you follow the procedures you’re supposed to follow, there shouldn’t be a problem,”
He said, though, that the system does have drawbacks, including the device’s registering
of “false positives” when it does not recognize a vehicle’s state of origin and its inability
to read plates with mixed fonts.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, R-at large, asked whether standards were
being issued nationally to make sure that all plates would be readable.
Mulligan said antique license plates are not readable by the device, nor are non-photoreflective
Answer each of the five following questions/items. Your answer to each
question/item should be 1-2 pages long, typed single spaced. Your answer
should reflect research on your part ??" from library sources, government
documents, your textbook, and/or the Internet. Give proper attribution to your
research sources (e.g., for Internet sources, provide a URL)
1. Which Constitutional Amendments
, if any, are implicated with this new
technology? Are there privacy implications with this new technology or are
individual's movements in public not covered by privacy rights? Give some
2. Should the information from the license plate readers be stored on a
puter server and if so for how long? Should a court order be required to
release information from any database of license plates picked up by the
readers? (e.g. Search Warrant, FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act)
court order, NSL (National Security Letter).
3. Should information gained from the license plate readers be able to be used
in criminal investigations and criminal prosecutions? Provide your legal
reasoning for both sides of the argument.
4. Who should have access to the information gained from the license plate
readers? Federal, State, local or a bination of the three (including all
three)? Should the information be a matter of public record that is able to be
accessed by anyone? Given the potential for these reader's to be used for
National Security purposes, should citizens be able to file a FOIA (Freedom of
Information Act) request to find out whether the government has information
about their daily movements?
5. Do public safety concerns outweigh the privacy concerns created by these
readers? Will these readers likely decrease crime? Could these readers be
used to defend the nation against potential terrorists? Should profiles of
suspicious individuals be built based on their daily movements?
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