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An Arizona town is hiding license plate readers in fake cactuses

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The town of Paradise Valley, Arizona, has a new vegetation-based surveillance system. According to a report from the Fox 10 affiliate in Phoenix, Paradise Valley has installed a new set of license-plate readers in a number of fake cactus structures throughout the town. The town has been installing the readers since February, but these are the first ones that have been actively concealed, using the same artificial cactus that the town previously used to install cell towers. For anyone driving by, the cameras would blend inconspicuously into the landscape.

Police describe the cameras as a simple system, checking plates against a national database of stolen cars, but privacy advocates say the devices can be significantly more invasive, potentially retaining all the captured plates indefinitely for later searches. With enough readers in place, the result is a comprehensive record of the movements of every driver in the area, available whenever police decide to search it.

This is one of the first public cases of the cameras being actively concealed, although the Paradise Valley Police insisted that the purpose of the cactuses was not to keep the system secret. "We want to make sure we're answering everybody's questions about data retention," town manager Kevin Burke told Fox 10. "How the things will be used, we want to make sure that is vetted before we turn these things up."