The Star Tribune has a good article today titled Police Cameras Quietly Capture License Plates, Collect Data. Yes – big brother is watching.
Basically, squad cars are equipped with high resolution cameras that are connected to the police officer's laptop in the car. As they drive around, the system automatically "reads" license plates of cars around the squad and checks those license plates against databases of stolen cars and cars that are tied to arrest warrants. I have no problem with that.
The issue raised in the article is that police agencies archive this data for a day or up to a year. Right now each police department sets their own policy. What they archive is the license plate, timestamp, and location. This data is public record and anyone can request it.
As a transportation planner, I wonder if this data could be usefully mined to help develop a region's travel patterns. The odds of a license plate being captured even twice on the same day are slim. There probably aren't enough matches. But if we could match license plates a dozen times a year, maybe a database wizard could start to tease useful data out of that.
Definitely not my specialty, but there will be more and more data out there related to traffic. Our industry's opportunity is to manage that data and draw useful conclusions from it.