A controversial surveillance method just got the green light in San Diego: automatic license plate readers meant to gather data that’ll help experts better understand how local traffic impacts pollution.
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Wednesday night to roll out automatic license plate readers in Barrio Logan, Logan Heights, Sherman Heights and western National City.
The plate readers are a part of a plan from the Air Pollution Control District (APCD). The group insists the data collection will only be used for research purposes to further understand the impact of emissions.
"I'm very excited that the county approved it,” said Sandy Naranjo, who serves on the community advisory committee (AB 617) working with the APCD.
The pollution district will use the scanners to take pictures of cars and trucks, and then cross reference the plates numbers and images with car information from the DMV.
"That's why we want to use technology,” Naranjo told NBC 7. “Not to go after a specific individual, but to figure out more information, to figure out what are the sources of pollution."
APCD is adamant data will not be used to stop or fine drivers, and personal information will not be saved or shared.
But some folks who live and work in San Diego neighborhoods aren't buying it.
“I don't feel comfortable with them doing that,” said Glen Kabiling, a local who often going fishing at
Pepper Park in National City. “Invasion of privacy, first thing."
Kabiling isn’t alone.
"I don't agree with that,” said Alejandro Oregel, who runs a business in Barrio Logan. “I think that we have the right to for our privacy. I think they’re still using it for something."
Kabiling and Oregel also think the county should target the larger culprits of air pollution: commercial industry along the port.
“Why blame it on the drivers?” Kabiling asked.
Naranjo said she understands that thought process but said the county needs to look at everything – including local traffic – if San Diego is serious about cleaning up the air.
“This is a health crisis,” said Naranjo. “In order for us to protect our children, we need to figure out the solutions and we need to have the research to know how we can do that."
But locals have a reason to be skeptical.
Last year, the San Diego Police Department conceded it shared data from license plate readers with hundreds of other agencies - a practice it first denied, and then later, quietly, stopped.
To read more about the license plate scanners approved as part of the APDC's plan, click here.