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Are license-plate readers coming in the city of Omaha?

OMAHA, Nebraska – On Tuesday, City Council discussed whether to grant the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office’s request for the installation of license-plate reading equipment in the city.

The proposed ordinance specifies that license-plate detection equipment be mounted on light poles, but it also specifies that Omaha Police would not have access to the information gathered by those devices.

At the council meeting on Tuesday, which also included a public hearing, the ordinance was in its second reading. On Tuesday, August 23, the council will hear the issue a third time.

The Flock Safety system, according to a representative of the ACLU of Nebraska, which opposes the project, amounts to mass data collection by collecting and storing GPS locations and license plate numbers of innocent bystanders.

Councilwoman Aimee Melton stated that she agrees with the ACLU and worries that the readers go too far in eroding people’s liberties.

However, DCSO asserts that the technology is a vital tool for combating crime, claiming that it has already dismantled a car theft ring. In a pilot project, authorities installed 15 cameras in Douglas County for a short period of time. As auto thefts remain a serious issue in the region, they hoped to add another 10 cameras in the Omaha-metro area.

The Sheriff’s Office was approached by Flock to provide a trial demonstration for a year at no cost to the county, Capt. Will Niemack said the council. He claimed that the surge in crime they had witnessed this year and previous year, particularly violent crime and property crime, made authorities interested in testing the technology.

When a stolen car passes by the system, the system is only intended to accomplish two things: snap a photo of the license plate and the vehicle and notify law enforcement. The technology, according to supporters, does not grant police all discretion, and the cameras are only pointed in the direction of a single lane. Additionally, it does not use facial recognition technology nor does it offer a real-time traffic monitor.

Although 116 warnings indicating a stolen plate, stolen automobile, fugitive, or missing person were generated by the 15 cameras in use over the course of the past month, according to Douglas County police, not all 116 notifications were accurate.

However, the ACLU contended that the cameras don’t discriminate when focusing on a vehicle and could record data on other people while seeking for details about a certain vehicle, gathering information on everybody going through the intersection at that time.

The data, which would automatically delete after 30 days, is protected with the same level of end-to-end encryption used by the FBI or CIA, according to supporters. They also claimed that the data is never sold and is solely owned by the Sheriff’s Office, not by Flock. The data collected is GPS locational data rather than live feed recordings.

Before moving forward with the installation of cameras here, opponents recommended that the city observe how the trial period in other sites plays out.

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