What are ALPR, LPR, ANPR and LPC?

Technology in cars has grown exponentially over the past decade. Car tracking technology has also come a long way in recent years. Do you know license plate readers? If not, you need to be aware of license plate readers as they are used and you need to know what is going on.

There are important abbreviations for license plate readers

Before learning the details of license plate readers, it is important to understand what the relevant abbreviations mean. CCTV Camera Pros on YouTube helps explain what each of these abbreviations means:

  • ALPR (Automatic License Plate Reader): “Computer-controlled high-speed camera systems that are typically mounted on street poles, lampposts, highway overpasses, moving trailers, or attached to police cars. LPRs automatically capture all license plate numbers that appear, along with location, date, and time,” according to Electronic Frontier Foundation.
  • LPC (License Plate Capture): A camera that can record clearly enough that you can see the license plate clearly enough when viewing footage.
  • LPR (License Plate Recognition or Reader): Software built into a camera, DVR, or both that recognizes the image it records is a license plate. So there is intelligence built into the camera.
  • ANPR (Automatic License Plate Recognition): Specialized software that reads the letters and numbers from a license plate and can save them to a database.

How do license plate readers work?

A license plate reader used by the MPD | PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images

License plate readers are low resolution but very fast cameras. Most systems have two cameras so they can cover two lanes of traffic at the same time. These cameras can record hundreds of license plates every minute. The resolution does not need to be high. The software just needs to be able to recognize the numbers and letters on the plate.

Each license plate reader comes with a scanner that scans passing plates. Attached to this scanner is a computer that compares them to a database to see if any cars of interest pass. A vehicle can be flagged for offenses ranging from suspended registration to a multi-state manhunt.

In the past, a police officer could put an All-Points Bulletin (APB) on a specific car when searching for a suspect. It was so other departments would know to be on the lookout for that license plate and that car.

On the other hand, a modern license plate reader can automatically scan for moving traffic or parked cars. No officers need be present for these readers to work.

The type of database connected to license plate readers will depend on the user of the technology. A police officer will want to know if a car triggers an APB, has a suspended registration, or if the driver has a suspended license. The police aren’t the only ones using these readers. Repo agents can use them to scan large parking lots for cars that need to be repossessed.

Although the license plate reader technology may seem very useful, the legality of taking photos and storing the data in a database has been questioned. License plate readers have even been called “mass surveillance technology”.

Currently, there are no regulations in the United States on how and when anyone can collect license plate data. Each state allows drives on police cars.

What differs between states is how long data is stored. States such as Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee , Utah and Vermont are leading the charge in passing regulations on the use of license plate readers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

There is also the question of the legality of recording one’s driving history and storing the data. It is technically legal for anyone to record people passing on a public road. However, advocates, such as the ACLU, are concerned about the repercussions of storing this data long-term. The ACLU expresses its concerns as follows: “Tracking the location of people is a significant invasion of privacy, which can reveal many things about their lives, such as friends, doctors, demonstrations, events policies or churches that a person can visit”.

RELATED: Does the government record wherever you drive?

Milton S. Rodgers