ACLU, Grand Rapids residents question plans for license plate scanners

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Parking enforcement officials in Grand Rapids are hoping to get a little more strict in the near future.

This week, they held a discussion at the City Commission meeting about looking for a company to get license plate scanners. The scanners would automate what parking enforcers do: taking down license plates and seeing if you're illegally parked.

Some residents are wondering if it's another form of surveillance, and if it goes too far. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is also offering its opposition to the city's plans for the scanning technology.

Josh Naramore, head of the city's parking department, said the scanner will do what the city parking enforcer is doing right now, but it will cut down time for parking staff as the city continues to grow.

"An important distinction that was confusing people [at the City Commission meeting] is this falls under a police related to surveillance. But it's not  surveillance because what we are doing is we are automating the process of what we are already doing."

The ACLU sent a letter to city officials this week saying that the scanners are another piece of surveillance technology that reduces "personal privacy rights and empowers the surveillance society."

Naramore said the department will only hold information for a maximum of 24 hours, sometimes deleting it right after, provided there are no parking violations. He said third party sources would not have access to the data.

"It's not tied to anything else, so we don't have any lookup information to the Department of Motor Vehicles or any other database, nor can our information be shared with any external agency," he said. "So even if they want the information there will be no information to share unless they wanted to know if someone got a parking ticket, which is currently  [able to be obtained through the Freedom of Information Act]."

He said the bottom line is that the scanning technology cuts down staff costs for them.  He claims it benefits Grand Rapids parkers in the long run because if costs for enforcement go up, then costs for parking permits go up.

Tentatively, the City Commission will either approve or deny their request to start asking for a bid from companies that make these scanners by August.  They are currently in talks with neighborhoods to help them enforce odd/even parking and create permit only parking.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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