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Privacy, accuracy concerns as license-plate readers expand

Ali Winston, Center for Investigative Reporting, San Francisco Chronicle, June 17, 2014
Denise Green had just dropped off her sister at the 24th Street Mission BART Station when a San Francisco police car with its lights on pulled up behindher and officers yelled, "Put your hands up" Sgt. Ja Han Kim ordered her to step out of the car, and as Green complied, she turned and saw several officers with their guns trained on her. They forced her to her knees, handcuffed her and searched her 1992 Lexus. Green overheard officers standing near her license plate shouting numbers to each other. "It's not a seven" one said. "No, three five zero," another officer replied. Green, a Muni driver and 50-year-old San Francisco resident, had been detained because an automatic license-plate reader the city had installed on its police cars mistakenly identified her vehicle as stolen. The officers did not confirm her license plate with their dispatcher."It was a nightmare," Green said. "I had no idea what was going on or why they were treating me like a criminal." ... Green's lawsuit against the San Francisco Police Department is heading to trial after the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court's decision to dismiss her claim. ... Green's attorney, Michael Haddad, said the incident took a toll on her. "It was extremely terrifying, and Denise ended up having to miss a couple weeks of work and get counseling afterward," he said. Haddad said license-plate readers have an error rate as high as 8 percent. "There's some acknowledgment by the manufacturers," he said, "that there's a significant percentage of the time that they're wrong."

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