For years, license plate readers have been used by police to collect information on millions of people, whether it’s for criminal investigations, racial profiling or illegal blackmailing. Now Rekor Systems wants to put that technology in your neighbors’ hands.
On Thursday, the company launched Watchman, automatic license plate reader technology it says can be installed on any. Rekor’s software, known as OpenALPR, then can analyze streaming video and find license plates captured in a recording. The product has been publicly available since 2015, but this is the first time Rekor is specifically marketing to individual homeowners rather than businesses.
To entice suburban residents, it’s offering a steep price drop — from the $50 a month it charges businesses and law enforcement agencies to $5 a month, less than the price of a newspaper subscription.
Watchman uses a whitelist/blacklist system, allowing customers to log plate numbers for cars that are approved to be near their homes or to warn them when a vehicle has been flagged as a potential threat is near.
Rekor Systems, which already works with police departments across the country, says the home version will work just as well as professional versions of the technology.
“It is as effective and accurate as our law enforcement version,” Rekor CEO Robert Berman said. “This is the same product we use with our customers.”
But with Rekor’s product launch, privacy advocates now worry that these automatic license plate readers, otherwise known as ALPRs, could be installed in front of every home, creating a network for police to bolster their own surveillance technology, which often has to go through City Hall for approval.
“They essentially get a vast network of ALPRs that they get to use for whatever purpose they want — and in return, citizens get no say in what tech their police use because technically it comes down to the consumer’s choice to install it and grant access,” said Matthew Guariglia, an Electronic Frontier Foundation policy analyst.
It’s akin to the situation that’s developed with. That company, owned by Amazon, has been working with hundreds of police departments around the US to promote the adoption of the cameras, which in turn can be used to supply video footage to the police.