June 16, 2021

Sharing Concerns About New Technology Proposed by Permit Parking Task Force

To the Editor:

In May of 2021 the Parking Task Force was prepared, after several years of work, to present their final plan to Council and the town’s residents. They faced, and still face, complicated problems and competing viewpoints. In my opinion, for all of their work, in the end they have gone astray in some respects.

The lead sentence in the Town Topics article of May 12 [“Parking Task Force is Almost Ready to Present Plan,” page 1] was, “Thanks to new technology, the parking woes that plague different neighborhoods of Princeton could soon be eased.” That article made no mention of the costly changes the task force has in mind for PHS neighbors nor any details about the new technology being promoted to the town by Passport, the company that provides Princeton’s automated parking program, and their partner Genetec.

First I’ll react briefly to the task force’s view that parking in front of our own houses is “a luxury” and that residents of the affected streets must pay for permits for themselves, guests, and contractors who have to park longer than the allotted three hours. If parking on our neighborhood streets by employees from the Business District is considered necessary to help our town thrive, shouldn’t the cost be borne by the businesses who will benefit, not just by those who live on these affected streets? Parking by PHS students is a separate issue, beside the point of this letter.

But to me the most worrisome aspect of this plan is the “new technology” that will enable these and the many other changes proposed. The technology enables ALPRs (Automate License Plate Readers), high-speed, computer-controlled camera systems, that would be mounted on cars that would roam our neighborhoods recording all license plate numbers.

Significant concerns about this type of surveillance technology and its impact on data privacy and civil rights have been raised by the  ACLU, The Brennan Center for Justice, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation among others.

Passport has told Council that they can tailor algorithms for maintaining and sharing license plate data to Princeton’s specifications, but I doubt that could or would work just as the salespeople promise. How accountable or transparent will Passport be? I am thinking of personal and collective data rights but also of ICE and our town’s promises to protect the rights of all of our residents. Does Princeton wish to buy into this technology while its limits and potential dangers are under debate? The fact that other towns are buying into this technology doesn’t make me any happier about its coming to Princeton.

Patricia Gibney
Moore Street