Smile you are on UNC-Chapel Hill surveillance cameras

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

 COMMUNITY NEWS

By Michelle Cassell
Managing Editor 

The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has contracted with Flock Safety to install 23 license plate readers throughout the campus as part of a Campus Safety/UNC Police-led initiative.

“The safety of our campus community is our top priority, and installing a license plate reader system is one tool among many we are implementing to continue to enhance safety on our campus,” UNC-Chapel Hill Media Relations said.

UNC-Chapel Hill entered into a contract with Flock Safety on Feb. 21, 2024, to install and monitor 23 license plate reader cameras on the University’s campus for $83,950 with an annual recurring cost of $69,000 over the following two years (a total $221,950), according to UNC Media Relations.

TLR attempted to get comment from UNC-Chapel Hill Police on how they would use this new technology and was told, “We don’t have any interviews to offer on this topic, but we hope the information we provided is helpful.”

Flock Safety pledges

“We exist to eliminate crime and keep your community safe. Our holistic public safety platform is comprehensive and intelligent – that means you have the actionable evidence you need to solve, deter and reduce crime across neighborhoods, schools, businesses, and entire cities,” Flock Safety’s website claims. “Flock markets to numerous aspects of application uses, including specifically working with campus security at locations of higher education. We protect students, staff, and assets with maintenance-free campus safety solutions.”

What’s the problem?

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has many concerns about using this technology – from the comprehensive nature of Flock’s public safety platform to fundamental privacy rights. Jay Stanley (@JayStanleyC) is a senior policy analyst with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, where he researches, writes and speaks about technology-related privacy and civil liberties issues and their future. He writes specifically about Flock in his March 4, 2024 report:

“One example of a company refusing to allow independent review of its product is the license plate recognition company Flock, which is pushing those surveillance devices into many American communities and tying them into a centralized national network.… Flock has steadfastly refused to allow independent security technology reporting and testing outlet IPVM to obtain one of its license plate readers for testing, though IPVM has tested all of Flock’s major competitors. That doesn’t stop Flock from boasting that ‘Flock Safety technology is best-in-class, consistently performing above other vendors.’”

The ACLU has made a policy statement in general regarding the use of the surveillance cameras:

“The ACLU does not oppose placing cameras at specific, high-profile public places that are potential terrorist targets, such as the U.S. Capitol. But the impulse to blanket our public spaces and streets with video surveillance is a bad idea. The growing presence of cameras will create chilling effects that bring subtle but profound changes to the character of our public spaces.”

The security cameras will be able to track all license plates in their placement area for 30 days, including bumper stickers on the back of cars. After 30 days, campus police will delete the recordings. Campus police would be able to obtain the camera’s information on any student or individual who parks in the area of the cameras. The use of this information poses a question about privacy issues.

For security purposes, UNC-Chapel Hill will not release any information about the placement of the cameras.


Michelle Cassell is a seasoned reporter who has covered everything from crime to hurricanes and local politics to human interest over the course of 35 years. As managing editor, she hopes to encourage writers of a wide range of backgrounds and interests in TLR’s coverage of Southern Orange County news. This reporter can be reached at Info@TheLocalReporter.press

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