Privacy concerns arise over photos
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Parking Authority is using automated mobile surveillance cameras to snap pictures of up to 200,000 license plates on parked cars each month so it can find scofflaws who repeatedly flout parking laws.
Those cars can be “booted” — that is, fit with a metal locking device that attaches to a wheel that cannot be removed until overdue fines are paid.
But the photos of license plates are also stored for 30 days, and are considered public record, making it possible for some motorists’ travel and parking habits to be tracked.
That has raised the privacy concerns of those like Donna Sciulli, a city resident whose car has been pictured more than a dozen times near her home and as she runs errands about the city, according to records of the photos obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“It seems like they’re almost stalking you,” Sciulli said. “I could understand if someone was reporting me to the police, but ... I never would have thought about this.”
The photos are generated by the parking authority’s Bootfinder Mobile License Plate Recognition cameras. The scanners, which cost nearly $22,000 each, are mounted on two cars that cruise the city looking for vehicles with outstanding parking fines.
The technology was used to make more than 144,000 license photograph scans in August, finding 162 cars with enough overdue fines to require a boot.
That means a small fraction of 1 percent of the cars being photographed are ever booted, raising privacy concerns among some residents and the American Civil Liberties Union about retaining photos of non-offending vehicles.
ACLU attorney Sara Rose requested the parking authority’s records last year as part of a national survey the legal group is conducting.
“We understand there are legitimate law enforcement purposes this technology can be used for,” Rose said. “But we have serious concerns about retaining data that does not result in a hit.”
Authority chairman David Onorato said, “The public doesn’t have to worry. We’re not sharing that information.”
But because it’s available as a public record for 30 days — which is how the newspaper accessed it — Rose suggests the agency delete pictures at the end of each shift if they don’t result in a “boot” hit. That would enable the authority to identify scofflaws with a minimal invasion of privacy.