Will the Pittsburgh Parking Authority Share License Plate Data with Police?

The goal is to help police locate stolen or wanted vehicles using information that parking authority employees collect as part of parking enforcement chores.

by Bob Bauder, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review / July 28, 2015

(TNS) -- When Pittsburgh Parking Authority employees record the license plate numbers of parked vehicles, they could begin sharing the information with Pittsburgh police, under legislation City Council is scheduled to get Tuesday.

The idea is to help police locate stolen or wanted vehicles using information that parking authority employees collect as part of parking enforcement chores.

An American Civil Liberties Union attorney said Monday that the proposal raises privacy concerns.

“It does create a record for where people have been,” said Witold “Vic” Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The police and whoever else has access to this could learn a lot about an individual.”

The parking authority has recorded license plates using vehicle-mounted cameras since 2005 and scans thousands of plates daily in the search for parking violations and parking ticket scofflaws, but so far it has not shared the data with police.

Councilman Dan Gilman of Shadyside, who is sponsoring the bill, said police would use a computer search to match the information against lists of stolen and wanted vehicles. Gilman said it would include cars involved in Amber Alerts for missing children and vehicles that police report as being used during a crime.

“We don't save the information,” he said. “We're not keeping it or tracking you. It's simply cross-checking a database containing license plate information to see if the vehicle is wanted for some reason. Unless the car is wanted for some reason, the information goes away.”

Gilman plans to introduce the legislation Tuesday.

David Onorato, the parking authority's executive director, did not return a phone call. Cathy Qureshi, who chairs the authority's board of directors, was unaware of the legislation but said she agrees with the concept.

“In terms of making better overall government, absolutely, but one has to look at the details very closely,” she said.

Police Chief Cameron McLay said he was unaware of the bill.

“It might be the best idea ever, but I can't comment on it if I don't know about it,” he said.

Mayor Bill Peduto, long a supporter of privacy rights, said sharing the information would be “critical” in helping police nab lawbreakers.

“It's technology that helps us get the bad guys off the street,” Peduto said.

Walczak said the legislation, while constitutional, presents another means for government to learn secretly about its citizens.

“These are vehicles in public places, so you could have a cop go around to every parking spot and write this down and not violate the Constitution,” he said. “It really raises government policy questions, like how far do we want a Big Brother society to go?”

©2015 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.