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The University will partner with private company Flock Safety to install license plate readers on campus, part of a larger effort to improve campus surveillance systems.

During a Sept. 28 Board of Trustees meeting, UNC Police Chief Brian James said the University is working toward consolidating campus camera systems for more streamlined access to footage following the Aug. 28 shooting.

The planned installation of 22 license plate recognition cameras will have an estimated cost of $80,000, UNC Media Relations said in an email statement. 

Since its dissemination, the recognition software has been the subject of debates about surveillance and privacy. In 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union released a report raising concerns about automatic license plate recognition technology, specifically regarding the collection and storage of data.

“These huge databases of plate information are not subject to any data security or privacy regulations governing license plate reader data,” the report said. “These companies decide who can access license plate data and for what purposes.”

Data from Flock Safety devices is deleted after 30 days for privacy purposes, and is only available to law enforcement agencies, according to the company’s website. According to North Carolina law, data from license plate readers used by "a law enforcement agency for law enforcement purposes" shall not be preserved for more than 90 days unless an agency requests the information for an ongoing investigation.

All images and metadata are encrypted on Flock Safety's devices and in the cloud,  the website said. 

First-year student Samuel Scarborough said transparency from the University would make him feel more comfortable with the installation of license plate recognition cameras.

Scarborough said he wanted to see what kind of data is being collected about individuals and how that data is being managed and also emphasized the complex history regarding the use of surveillance technology in the United States.

“Anytime a surveillance program is expanded or created, especially for some type of police force, it's important to be very cautious and acknowledge the long and harsh history that surveillance has had, especially against marginalized communities in the United States,” he said.

UNC Media Relations did not specify how the University plans to address privacy concerns about the new cameras.

Scarborough said he thought a main benefit of implementing license plate recognition technology on campus would be to quickly identify potential suspects for crimes committed on campus. 

English and comparative literature associate professor Martin L. Johnson, who is a member of the University's Advisory Committee on Transportation and Parking, said the license plate readers could also allow parking space to be managed more efficiently.

“Rather than having to rely on a placard system or booth in which a person is having to give out tickets to park and collect money, it really introduces a lot of cost savings,” Johnson said.

He added that using license plate recognition cameras to automate payment could reduce the demand for parking on campus.

“You have this beautiful campus, and we've turned so much of it over to these really ugly parking lots,” Johnson said. “And if you walk by campus any time of day, you'll notice that not all those parking lots are full. And so that's a sign that parking is not managed in a way that is maximizing its utility.”

Flock Safety offers five different cameras with license plate recognition technology, one of which is the Falcon SR camera, a short-range device used mainly for monitoring parking. 

The company’s website said this camera could also be used to equip law enforcement with “essential evidence” to solve crimes in the community.

“This short-range LPR camera delivers high-quality images of vehicles entering your premises, day or night,” the company’s website said. 

Media Relations did not specify which model of Flock Safety cameras will be installed on campus, nor did the University provide a timeline for installation.

@dailytarheel |

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