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Jonathan Hofer

Jonathan Hofer, is a Research Associate at the Independent Institute. He is author of the new report, The Pitfalls of Law Enforcement License Plate Readers in California and Safeguards to Protect the Public. Jonathan and his brother (his brother is an attorney) were pulled over by the CA Highway Patrol and held at gunpoint on the ground because the car they were driving in was misidentified as stolen.

Law Enforcement Agencies Using License Plate Readers Earn California Golden Fleece® Award for Inadequate Safeguards

Oakland, CA—Law enforcement agencies are essentially testing surveillance systems on Californians with their use of automated license plate readers (ALPRs). ALPRs are high-speed cameras capturing images of passing cars, enabling the collection of information from vehicles’ license plates. The costly technology has troubling error rates resulting in frequent baseless vehicle stops.

Because of their failure to adopt basic standards to protect public safety and public privacy, California jurisdictions and law enforcement agencies that have adopted ALPRs are awarded the thirteenth California Golden Fleece® Award for failing to implement and maintain proper safeguards.

The new report, The Pitfalls of Law Enforcement License Plate Readers in California and Safeguards to Protect the Public, highlights the risks ALPRs pose to the civil rights of California motorists. Several key recommendations are included in the report to help ensure the privacy, safety, and constitutional rights of Californians. Jurisdictions across the country should also adopt these recommendations before using ALPR technology.

Proponents argue the ALPRs help police identify stolen vehicles, people wanted for a crime, and missing persons. When a law enforcement agency stops a vehicle identified as stolen by an ALPR system, a high-risk felony traffic stop is initiated, magnifying mistakes if erroneous data is collected by the ALPR.

“There is currently little scholarly evidence suggesting that ALPRs achieve the goals stated by law enforcement. More analysis must be undertaken before we can know if ALPRs produce significant benefits and what the benefits might be,” said Jonathan Hofer, Independent Institute policy research associate and author of the report.

Hofer offers recommendations that must be adopted to protect both public privacy and public safety, including; ALPR data-collection and retention limits, regular data cleaning, transparency, and strong enforcement mechanisms when violations occur.

“Until a structure is in place that protects individuals’ privacy and provides law enforcement with a template to ensure accountability and public safety, no ALPR network is satisfactory,” says Hofer, who in 2018 was held at gunpoint, face down on the ground, by police when he was a passenger in a car misidentified as stolen by an ALPR.

Jonathan Hofer earned a BA in political science from the University of California, Berkeley. He has written extensively on both California and national public policy issues. His research interests include privacy law, local surveillance, and the impact of emerging technologies on civil liberties.

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