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Rekor software adds license plate reader technology to home surveillance, causing privacy concerns

Watchman was made available just days ago. The software uses AI and machine learning to read license plates on cars using home video surveillance systems.

CLEVELAND — Technology is getting more and more advanced each day, especially when it comes to technology to make your home smarter. And now, Rekor Systems has technology that allows consumers to track license plates caught on their home surveillance systems.

The software is called Watchman, and was made available and marketed to consumers just days ago. A commercial version of the software has been on the market for years, used by businesses and even law enforcement.

So how does it work? The software uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to read plates on cars allowing users to customize alerts and integrate home surveillance systems into their smart home ecosystem.

“[Consumers] use it for everything. To find out when their children are home. Some have second homes. they’re a couple hours away and they want to know who is on their property,” said Robert Berman, CEO of Rekor, offering examples of how his software is used. 

But before the technology made its way to consumers, Rekor’s focus has been the public sector, including law enforcement who use license plate reader technology every day.

License plate readers can scan every license plate that passes by, allowing law enforcement to catch wanted drivers who are on a hotlist – a database of offenders.

Berman says the consumer version of the software uses a similar hotlist to customize alerts.

“We don’t know who that vehicle belongs to. And cameras don’t profile,” said Berman.

But still, Rekor and its past partnership with police are reason for privacy advocates to pay attention – especially since the premium version of Watchman already includes the ability to share license plate data with law enforcement.

“If they’re not exactly clear about what they’re using the information or who they’re sharing the information with, then you might have privacy actions between the consumer and Rekor for what they’ve done with the product,” says Michael Benza, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University. 

Ring and parent company Amazon has already found itself in hot water over its partnerships with police departments around the country. But according to Ring, video footage and data is only shared with police with the device owner’s permission. Rekor says its product also requires consumers give permission.

Rekor adds that it doesn’t have information about who owns a vehicle.

“We don’t know who that vehicle belongs to. And cameras don’t profile,” added Berman.

But as long data from technology companies is linked with law enforcement in some way, privacy will always be a concern.

“At a certain point, the quantity of the information that they’re gathering does now violate your privacy,” said Benza. And because technology is everywhere, the line between what’s considered public and private is blurred. “We are struggling to define the parameters of public, given the expansion of technology.”

He added, you can track somebody as they go around town and know exactly what they’re location is, what shops they visit, what church they go to, what political groups they visit – any of that sort of information we expect not to reveal to the public, not to be tracked.” 

Berman says that’s not what his products are intended for, adding other use cases such as monitoring toll roads, giving certain vehicles access to a secured parking lots, and even citing fast-food restaurants that want to know how often customers come by.

“There are a number of things that people don’t understand about license plate reader technology,” said Berman.

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