San Diego

Debate Over HOA's License Plate Reading Camera Divides Neighborhood

A Carmel Valley neighborhood is using a high-tech tool to keep the community safe, but a civil liberties non-profit organization and even some residents say the tool infringes on privacy.

The new tool is a solar-powered, WiFi-connected camera that reads the license plate of every vehicle that leaves the Torrey View neighborhood. There’s a sign on the gate that says, "Notice: 24/7 video recording."

One neighbor has already sent a surveillance image to police.

Lou Kaplan said he watched a home invasion suspect flee his neighbor’s home on Friday, but the HOA was able to send a picture of the car the suspect got away in to the San Diego Police Department.

Kaplan says the HOA board agreed to install the camera from Flock Safety after a series of break-ins in the community.

He said some people on the board questioned if the camera was ethical, but he said “the reality is people aren’t being photographed. The vehicle is being photographed.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties non-profit organication focused on digital rights, is not a fan. A spokesman for the organization called the camera a “digital vigilante service” and says hackers could easily access the information it gathers.

A Flock Safety spokesman told NBC 7 that only clients have access to the images and the images are deleted after 30 days.

SDPD said investigators received the license plate image but have not caught the burglar yet. A department spokesperson says video evidence, especially license plates, are valuable tools during investigations.

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