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Cops using automatic license readers: Does that make you queasy?

For many years now (and, indeed, with increased momentum and stridency of opinion) in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001), a debate has raged across the country focused upon the surveillance of the general public by law enforcement agencies.

That debate has raised this most fundamental question: Where should the line be drawn across Indiana and nationally regarding the limits of surveillance? Is there a point at which mass surveillance -- online, via agencies' abilities to monitor cellphone data and through a number of essenially secretive high-tech assists that enable spying in myriad ways -- impermissibly (that is, both ethically and legally) intrudes upon citizens' privacy rights and expectations?

Some people argue that heightened dangers in modern life justify new privacy encroachments by law enforcers.

That is hardly a uniform view, though, with legions of concerned individuals from all walks of life fearing what they regard as progressively eroding liberties.

The debate continues, with it in fact being underscored recently by a "yes" vote from the city council in one California town approving the use of blanket surveillance across the community enabled by a series of automatic car license readers to be installed across the area.

Proponents see no problem in that, saying that any privacy concerns are outweighed by the positive benefits to be derived from crime deterrence and the identification of wrongdoers.

That argument is precisely what concerns critics, who feel that privacy should never be part of a balancing proposition in American life.

"You don't need to be Big Brother and monitor my trips to the grocery store," stated one dissenter at a public meeting.

"We need to look at this for what it is -- mass surveillance," noted another.

It seems reasonably likely that a growing number of communities across the country -- including in Indiana -- might soon be discussing the introduction of license readers in their communities, as well.

The security-versus-privacy debate goes on. We welcome readers' thoughts on the matter.

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Patel Defense Criminal defense attorney

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