Colorado neighborhoods using license plate readers to reduce crime, raising privacy concerns

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AURORA, Colo. — It’s not your typical neighborhood fixture, but people who live in the Bel Air Estates in Aurora believe the two towering light poles that stand watch over the entrance to their community will help keep it safe.

“It’s the world’s first tool built for neighborhoods to solve crime,” said Garrett Langley, Founder and CEO of Flock Safety.

Langley says they’ve partnered with ten different communities across metro Denver. High-tech cameras sit on two of the light poles in the shade of a single solar panel. The devices can also read license plates.

According to Flock Safety’s website, 70% of all serious crimes involve a vehicle.

“I have a sense of security when it’s there,” said resident Jeff Rollins.

But not everybody likes the idea of being watched. The poles include red and white signs saying there is 24/7 surveillance.

“Another example in my opinion of when our technology outstrips our morals and ethics,” said Steve Beaty, Metropolitan State University professor of computer science. “Are we comfortable with our neighbors knowing about our movements, and if so, at what detail level?”

Langley says the company does not legally own the footage, rather the homeowners association they partner with. The company deletes the footage every thirty days, unless there is a police investigation that places a hold on the evidence. But Beaty says deleting the footage regularly doesn’t mean the data is safe.

“There are vulnerabilities in every single system out there, and so we never ask ourselves in computer security if, we ask ourselves when,” Beaty said.

There is an option to opt out for residents in the neighborhood, and request their cars not be recorded. Langley says on the flip side, if that car was to be stolen, there would be no footage to help police.

“It’s an inevitable reality that there are going to be cameras everywhere, whether it’s an iPhone in your pocket, or a stationary camera on a light pole. The question is not will they exist, the question is who owns the footage,” Langley said.

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