N.Y. City Police Camera Scans License Plates Near Ground Zero

October 3, 2007

The New York City Police Department has been operating a camera that scans the license plates of cars passing just blocks from ground zero, a newspaper reported this week.

The camera is an example of the kind of technology the NYPD hopes to use to create a high-tech security ring around Lower Manhattan, the Daily News reported. City officials pointed out that the camera, also not far from City Hall, is currently in a test phase.

“It is not storing data at this point or being used for any law enforcement purposes,” said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne.

The camera is the only one of its kind attached to a fixed spot, though some squad cars have similar technology. It transmits scans of license plates wirelessly, then matches them to a database.

“It worked as it was designed to work, which is that it was able to read most license plates,” said Paul Cosgrave, commissioner of the city Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the camera raises new questions about privacy.

“These are license plates of innocent people, doing nothing more suspicious than coming and going,” she said. “In a free society, people should be free to come and go as they please, without worrying about being recorded by the New York police department.”

An $81.5 million plan to safeguard Lower Manhattan and parts of midtown modeled after security measures in London’s financial district, would feature surveillance cameras, as well as barriers that could automatically block streets.

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