While plate owners’ names are protected from the general public, the federal Driver Privacy Protection Act carves out an exemption for law enforcement, allowing police access to driver information, said Marge Howell, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.
Wrightsville Beach Chief of Police John Carey said the law allows any officer in any part of the state to run a vehicle’s license plate and access criminal histories, vehicle registrations, plate statuses and much more information.
“That plate belongs to the state,” Carey said.
Running license plates is nothing unique to the Wrightsville Beach Police Department. But Wrightsville Beach has drawn attention recently over ongoing attempts to install a license plate recognition system on the drawbridge, the only vehicular access point tp the island.
But Carey said New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington intend on installing license plate recognition system in all major access areas so police are notified when a wanted criminal enters the area. That effort has drawn criticism from people arguing such a system would constitute a violation of privacy, but law enforcement contends police have legal access to such driver information.
Carey said Wrightsville Beach has entered into a ports and waterway security joint grant application with the county and city to secure funding for the town’s license plate recognition system.
Date posted: January 20, 2011
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