by Emily Mosier
Troy University police placed license plate readers this month at all 12 campus entrances and exits, instantly alerting campus police when individuals on the state sex offender registry and those with outstanding felony warrants are on campus.
The solar-powered Flock Safety Cameras, which police said do not automatically alert them to individuals with other types of criminal records and warrants, send emails and text messages to police while calling dispatch. Police also can feed their own lists of suspects into the technology.
George Beaudry Sr., Troy University’s Chief of Campus Police, said his department has used similar cameras that the City of Troy also deploys. The Troy Police Department recently let the university police use the cameras to help find an individual suspected of firing a gun last semester near the Newman Center, a coed dorm.
“These cameras are truly here for safety and security,” Chief Beaudry said. “This is nothing that’s going to be out here to harm anyone.”
The cameras make some students feel safer. Among them is Ava Carnazza, president of Troy University’s Student Government Association and a senior global business major from Enterprise, Alabama.
“We want this campus to be the safest it can be, and I believe the scanners help us take a step in the right direction,” Carnazza said.
But critics of license plate cameras are concerned about how police might use the data swept up by the cameras however they see fit, violating basic civil rights and expectations around privacy.
Many college students nationwide are expressing concerns about license plate cameras, said India McKinney, director of federal affairs for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The Foundation is a nonprofit advocacy organization that fights for technology to be used in ways that protect civil liberties.
“We have a huge problem with (license plate cameras), both from a privacy and civil liberties perspective,” said McKinney, whose father grew up near Troy. “Privacy should be the default, and if there is a reason why (law enforcement) needs to invade my privacy, then they need to prove it.”
Because these cameras scan every license plate and the campus police are working with state law enforcement, the data they sweep up could also be used to monitor anyone at any time, McKinney added.
“The question is: ‘What are they doing with the rest of the data?’” McKinny said. “How long are they storing that data?”
Pre-law student Jason Frye, a junior English major from Monroeville, Alabama, expressed similar privacy concerns, while sympathizing with police efforts to protect students.
“The license scanning technology is excessive, but I think the university has been placed between a rock and a hard place that makes it necessary,” Frye said. “Some may view it as an invasion of privacy, but students should understand that the university has to take protective measures, especially with the increase of gun violence on campus lately. “
Flock Safety cameras are currently in 42 states, according to the company, which claims its equipment has led to the recovery of more than 15,000 stolen plates, the retrieval of $10 million of stolen goods, and the discovery of more than 20,000 firearms since 2017.
At least 50-plus universities in America have installed similar technology, including The University of Florida, according to an analysis by the Tropolitan and data from a 2021 study by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.