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More Wisconsin police agencies using computerized license plate readers

A registration sticker on a Wisconsin license plate.
A registration sticker on a Wisconsin license plate.

MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - Privacy advocates are concerned, as more Wisconsin police agencies use computerized license plate readers.

The machines read the plates of every vehicle which passes by a squad car – and it then tells the officer whether the owners are wanted for any reason.

The Wisconsin State Journal said four Madison area police departments stored more than 4 million license plate images over the past three years. Those departments are in Sun Prairie, Middleton, Fitchburg, and Verona.

The American Civil Liberties’ Union issued a red flag about the technology, which flags about 2.5 percent of the vehicles checked by the four Dane County agencies.

Wisconsin ACLU director Chris Ahmuty says authorities can easily use it when there’s not a reasonable suspicion to target people.

Middleton Police Chief Brad Keil compares the units to an officer on a stakeout – and he says people don’t expect privacy when they’re out in public.

Officials say the license plate readers help officers track down stolen vehicles, crime suspects, children who are kidnapped, and vehicles with expired plates. Madison Police use it on their parking enforcement vehicles.

Milwaukee Police also have the units, but they’re not saying how they’re used.

The state Justice Department says almost 35 law enforcement agencies and UW-Green Bay can have data checked against the state’s automated license plate readers. 

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