BART Buys Controversial License Plate Readers

Without much fanfare or public fanfare, BART police bought and installed two automatic license plate readers at Oakland's MacArthur station, hoping to eventually put the controversial technology at every station.

BART Deputy Police Chief Ben Fairow plans to present the pilot program to the board of directors Thursday.

He told the East Bay Times that the automated license plate readers, a tool used by other police agencies in the Bay Area, could be especially useful in solving property crimes. The cameras have not yet been turned on. Piedmont began using the readers in 2013, and cities such as New York and Boston use them, too.

But privacy and civil rights advocates are concerned about how long BART will retain the collected data, how that data will be used, and who is being surveilled, the newspaper reported. The ACLU even has a web page devoted to these readers, titled, "You Are Being Tracked." 

"It's not just how are we going to use this technology, but what are the potential risks, the potential ongoing costs, and how could that money be used elsewhere," Tessa D'Arcangelew, a technology and civil liberties organizer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, told the newspaper.

 But two riders at the Lafayette station early morning didn't seem to mind.

"Yeah, I'm not against that," Kyle Stadt told NBC Bay Area. "I think BART is having a lot of issues in the parking lot. I think it's important to keep its property safe. No, it's not really an issue with me."

And Chris Maher said, "I'm always for more protection." 

Others are eerily cautious of the devices. 

"A few years late, but it's 1984," said BART rider Joanna Mest, referencing the Orwellian tale. "Big brother is watching." 

BART first bought two cameras from 3M in 2013 for $65,500, documents show. But it wasn't until late last year that those cameras were installed at the MacArthur station.

Initially, the department had intended to install the cameras at the Orinda station, where officers had seen a rash of catalytic converter thefts, he told the newspaper. But due to the station's configuration, they had no way to power the cameras and opted for MacArthur. The two cameras are mounted on light poles at the entrance and exit of the station parking lot.

According to data provided by BART police, property crimes -- including burglaries, thefts, auto thefts, and arson -- made up 94 percent of all crimes in 2014 and 93 percent of all crimes in 2015, the newspaper reported.

"The intentions for our part is to have a tool that helps us to reduce those types of crimes in our parking lots," BART Deputy Police Chief Ben Fairow said. 

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