Automatic license plate readers (ALPRs), software that allows computers to separate and analyze license plates from camera footage, could soon become ubiquitous in American neighborhoods thanks to a company called Rekor Systems. On Thursday, the firm started selling a product called Watchman. The $5 per month subscription allows homeowners to add the company’s OpenALPR software to almost any home security camera.
The centerpiece of the software is a feature that allows you to white and blacklist specific license plates. Each time your cameras capture a vehicle on either list, the software sends you a notification. Rekor imagines homeowners using this functionality for mostly innocuous purposes. For example, the company suggests parents could add school buses to their notification list so that they can know when they’re kids are back home from school.
While Rekor has offered this type of software since 2015, this is the first time it has sold it to regular people and for such a low price. Law enforcement agencies and businesses have to pay $50 per month to use the tech. What’s more, Rekor claims both versions work equally good at isolating license plates from camera footage. “It is as effective and accurate as our law enforcement version,” Robert Berman, the company’s CEO, told CNET. It’s also worth pointing out, there are a lot more home security cameras in 2020 than there were in 2015.
That said, there are a couple of limitations to the $5 package. The software won’t automatically log every single license that passes your home. As a homeowner, you’ll also won’t be able to obtain someone’s name, address and location history from their license plate. That’s a feature only law enforcement can access.
However, as CNET notes privacy advocates fear the technology could be easily abused by both homeowners and law enforcement agencies to erode the privacy of innocent people further. And advocates have good reason to be skeptical of companies like Rekor. Amazon’s Ring security service spent the majority of 2019 defending its partnerships with law enforcement agencies. In one instance, a report from Motherboard showed that the company had coached police on how to convince homeowners to hand over their Ring camera footage without a warrant. Similarly, it’s easy to imagine a context in which police agencies could abuse the widespread proliferation of technology like OpenALPR.