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By Erin Glanville

The Privacy Balance

Uploaded: May 18, 2014

The Menlo Park City Council made a difficult but prudent and thoughtful decision this week when they adopted an ordinance putting stronger limitations around the use of the data captured by the Menlo Park Police Department's new automated license plate readers. The new ordinance also creates penalties or consequences for unauthorized use or abuse of that data. (See the original story.)

The City Council had the choice between adopting a resolution that would provide guidelines to help address public privacy concerns or actually passing an ordinance that would definitively protect privacy. The problem with a resolution is that it can be more easily discarded when situations arise that appear to be "an exception to the rule". Ultimately those exceptions become the watered down rule.

This was not an issue about not trusting the Menlo Police Department or diluting the law enforcement tools the Department has at its disposal. If those where the issues the City Council was focused on, the Department would not have been given the technology in the first place. To quote Mayor Mueller, this was the challenge of finding a careful "middle ground" that provides checks and balances to responsibly address privacy and abuse concerns.

Council can always let out the reins once a longer track record has established. In the meantime, safeguards that error on the side of privacy are appropriate.