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FAYETTEVILLE -- A privacy policy for a new parking enforcement system at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville spells out how long data will be stored and who will be able to access information gathered by car-mounted cameras that will scan license plates of vehicles on campus.

The technology, new to UA, has raised concern from some privacy advocates, while university officials say it can help with parking enforcement at a campus where in recent years enrollment growth has far outstripped any new spaces for vehicles.

No date has been set for when the technology will be rolled out at UA, said Gary Smith, the university's director of transit and parking. For now, parking enforcement still involves physical permits affixed to vehicles.

Already the scanning system has been delayed. The university in February signed a deal with Texas-based NuPark. An initial purchase order lists an expected outlay of about $255,000 in the system's first year and then yearly software subscription payments ranging from about $75,000 to about $81,000 for years two through five of the deal.

The university planned to have the system in place for fall 2017. Smith said that the scanning technology itself has been tested, but issues remain with syncing the online sale of parking permissions to UA systems.

The privacy policy, published online at parking.uark.edu/parking-services/lpr_privacy.php, states that the system uses a mix of fixed cameras at campus parking garages as well as car-mounted cameras that patrol other lots.

The system "captures two photos of observed vehicles: (1) a context photo of the vehicle and its immediate surroundings and (2) a photo of the license plate." The system "also records the global positioning system coordinates and date/time information of the observation."

Police may access the data, but it otherwise will not be sold or traded. Smith said supervisors would not be allowed to access data to check on employees.

Unless part of an ongoing police investigation, data will be retained for 150 days, the policy states.

State lawmakers in 2013 restricted the use of license plate readers, with exemptions for police and parking enforcement entities. They also spelled a requirement for a policy like what UA has published.

But Holly Dickson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said she saw no reason for data to be stored for what amounts to more than an entire school semester.

"They basically are tracking daily movements," Dickson said. When the purpose is parking enforcement -- in contrast to police investigations -- "thirty days would seem to be a reasonable outer limit," Dickson said.

She added: "I think that the public needs to give some critical consideration to whether parking enforcement is important enough that we want to allow the government to track our movements."

Capt. Gary Crain with university police said the data could be helpful if police are looking for a specific vehicle.

"If we have an investigation going, we'll use any information at our disposal to come to the truth of what happened. But outside of an investigation, we have no reason or any need to review any of that data," Crain said.

Smith said the data will also be used to help develop a smartphone app that would alert drivers to where they can likely find available spaces on campus.

UA has about 13,570 spaces on campus, according to its most recent annual transit and parking report for the fiscal year that ended June 30. UA enrolled about 27,500 students this fall, up from 18,648 students 10 years earlier.

A total of 26,152 parking permits of various types were issued in the 12-month period that ended June 30, according to the report, a decrease from the 27,516 permits issued a year earlier.

Gracie Taylor, a first-year student living on campus, said in an email that she drives to work and has a concern about safety in the outer lots of campus. She said she would like to purchase a permit allowing her to park closer to where she lives, but is on a waiting list because they are sold out.

She said she was not concerned about any loss of privacy with the new system. She said, however, she didn't see how it would help with her main parking concerns.

"It will only create more tickets for students and cost students more money," she said.

The fine is $50 for parking in a lot or space without permit authorization. UA issued 39,818 parking citations of all types in the 12-month period ending June 30, according to its most recent yearly report, a decrease from the previous year's 43,193 citations.

Smith said the new system should provide greater flexibility in allowing different types of parking permissions for different time periods to be issued. Permissions will be able to be changed online and immediately take effect, he added.

Once in place, it will be "a more efficient operation," Smith said.

Metro on 12/25/2017

Print Headline: Policing parkers sparks privacy concerns at UA

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