WSP plan irks terrorists and their enablers

As if your common sense wasn’t enough, the fact that the American Civil Liberties Union has reservations

about a new surveillance system being employed at ferry docks by the Washington State Patrol should reassure everyone that the idea is a good one.

Earlier this month, WSP started running criminal checks on the license plate numbers of all vehicles boarding ferries to and from Bainbridge Island as a test of its fledgling Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) system.

WSP may seek funding to install the ALPR system at other Washington State Ferries terminals, including Southworth, if the Bainbridge and Seattle testing is successful.

The ALPRS system uses digital cameras to photograph the license plate of each vehicle as it pulls away from the terminal toll booth. The license plate numbers are then digitized and checked against four FBI criminal databases.

A computer will automatically flag a vehicle if it has been reported stolen, if it is listed in an AMBER Alert, if someone associated with the vehicle is wanted for a felony crime, or if the license plate is associated with a suspected terrorist.

If a vehicle matches any of those criteria, an alarm is sounded at a WSP command center in Seattle, and a trooper is dispatched to verify the plate number and investigate the vehicle.

Sounds like a pretty nifty setup to us, one with the potential to keep Washington residents safe. Which apparently drives the ACLU crazy.

Doug Honig, spokesman for the ACLU chapter in Seattle, said the organization has no problem with the camera system being used for flagging stolen vehicles, potential child abductors and wanted felons.

He does, however, have concerns about flagging vehicles based on federal terrorist watch lists, because the ACLU believes those lists are often erroneous.

His group is also concerned that license plate information will be stored for two months, even if the vehicle is not flagged for criminal activity.

The mere fact that the ACLU is agreeable to using surveillance cameras to thwart one type of crime but not another underscores the basic hypocrisy of its position.

We know of no credible evidence to suggest that terrorist watch lists are inherently any less reliable than any other FBI database. Given the recent emphasis on terrorism, one might assume such lists are, in fact, given more scrutiny.

In any case, just because someone is considered a potential terrorist doesn’t mean they’re going to be arrested on the spot, thrown in jail and water-boarded. But it does mean they bear watching, which is precisely what WSP aims to do.

And that’s a good thing.

From where we sit, a terrorist who would potentially injure or kill hundreds of commuters aboard a ferry boat represents a significantly more serious threat than a car thief, and we applaud WSP for taking proactive steps to ensure such a disaster doesn’t happen in Washington.

As for the ACLU, one can’t avoid the suspicion that the organization isn’t quite as worried about the new surveillance system failing as it is that it might actually work.

Lest we forget, it’s been almost seven years since the most devastating attack in history on American soil, but the threat hasn’t gone away — as much as some might wish to believe it had.

Good intentions and happy thoughts won’t keep us safe in these dangerous times. It will take diligence, intelligence and a commitment to never taking chances where human lives are concerned.

To that end, an electronic surveillance system that can detect the presence of a terrorist before he or she has a chance to act works just fine.

And if that doesn’t sit well with terrorists and their enablers, so much the better.

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