OSINT Blog / Post

July 18, 2024

Discover the Unknown Through the Power of License Plate Recognition Technology

License plates are more than just pieces of metal or plastic attached to a vehicle—they are essential for law enforcement, vehicle registration, and identification.

Mandated in most jurisdictions, license plates, or Vehicle Registration Marks (VRMs), provide unique alphanumeric IDs that link vehicles to their owners in the region's vehicle register. This designation varies globally; in the UK, VRMs are unique nationwide, while in the US, they are state-specific but may duplicate across states. Though exceptions exist, particularly for specialized cases like agricultural vehicles or specific government-owned ones, it remains nearly universal that legitimate vehicles display a license plate.

The current location of license plates can be viewed and analyzed to provide critical information to investigators in real time with the proper technology. This technology is known by several names: License Plate Recognition (LPR), Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR), and Number Plate Recognition (NPR). Whatever name you use, license plate recognition technology can revolutionize intelligence operations and investigations.

What is License Plate Recognition (LPR)?

LPR technology employs cameras to capture and analyze vehicle license plate numbers, cross-referencing them against databases. Utilizing Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, it converts the alphanumeric characters on license plates into readable text. Once processed, LPR software checks for matches in databases, flagging vehicles when necessary.

LPR is prevalent in various settings, including recovery vehicles, traffic cameras, dedicated camera stations, and parking lots. It serves multiple purposes, such as informing parking charges or alerting authorities to stolen vehicles, criminal links, or documentation issues.

How LPR Technology is Used in Criminal and Security Investigations

LPR technology is a valuable tool for security and investigation teams to inform investigations by identifying vehicles and reviewing activity. When analyzing license plate information in real-time, these teams can rapidly identify high-risk vehicles or vehicles associated with a particular incident.

The value of an LPR system for investigations is driven by the ability to analyze both historic and real-time traffic data associated with a vehicle of interest to help solve crimes and prevent potential security threats. LPR can be applied by public sector agencies and private businesses to improve their safety and security measures through a range of methods, which include those below.

Locating Missing Persons: LPR assists in finding vehicles linked to missing persons by analyzing real-time and historical camera data. The Metropolitan Police's handling of Hannah Warren's case highlighted the importance and underutilization of ANPR in such investigations.

Locating Stolen Vehicles: When vehicles are reported stolen, LPR quickly flags them in software, alerting law enforcement to their location. The East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office’s successful use of LPR in locating stolen vehicles in 2022 exemplifies this.

Automating Vehicle-Led OSINT Investigations in Skopenow

Law enforcement and security teams seeking to prevent and investigate incidents can leverage Skopenow's ability to process publicly available vehicle records in real time. Searching for a subject within Skopenow lists all vehicles they can potentially access, including those they own, lease, and those belonging to co-residents. Investigators can also perform reverse VIN searches to identify all residents at the registered address of the vehicle.

Skopenow's vehicle data comprises records of vehicles in the U.S. and Canada, including the VIN, VRM, Make, Model, Year, Date Acquired, and Vehicle Body Type. This information enables investigators to identify their subject's vehicles, facilitating subject identification, surveillance, and vehicle searches.

Request a demo and free trial today at www.skopenow.com/try to see firsthand how Skopenow can help your organization unlock the power of open-source intelligence.