Court Battle Looms Over Automatic License Plate Readers


  • SkyCop Mobile License Plate Recognition & Video Surveillance System Picture

    SkyCop Mobile License Plate Recognition & Video Surveillance System Picture

    The SkyCop Mobile License Plate Recognition & Video Surveillance System enables police to instantly check license plate information. | May 10, 2013

Just the Facts:
  • Privacy advocates are going to court in California over the use of automatic license plate readers by police.
  • The issue is whether the new technology is an invasion of privacy.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California jointly filed suit this week against two Los Angeles-area law-enforcement agencies over their failure to produce records related to the use of automatic license plate readers.

SAN FRANCISO — Privacy advocates are going to court in California over the use of automatic license plate readers by police.

The issue is whether the new technology is an invasion of privacy.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California jointly filed suit this week against two Los Angeles-area law-enforcement agencies over their failure to produce records related to the use of automatic license plate readers.

The sophisticated camera systems are mounted on squad cars and telephone poles. They are able to read license plates and record the time, date and location a car was encountered.

One such device, the SkyCop Mobile License Plate Recognition & Video Surveillance System, is touted by the Memphis Police Foundation on its Web site. The organization says the system can provide police with such information as "improper registration, people driving on revoked licenses, stolen plates and/or stolen vehicles, outstanding warrants, sex offenders (and) known gangsters."

The EFF/ACLU lawsuit seeks documents relating to policy and training on the readers, as well as a week's worth of data collected by the agencies in 2012. While the sheriff and police departments produced some materials, they failed to provide documents related to sharing information with other agencies, and neither agency has produced the data collected during the one-week period, said the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a posting on its Web site.

"Location-based information like license plate data can be very revealing," said Electronic Frontier Foundation Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch. "By matching your car to a particular time, date and location — and building a database of that information over time — law enforcement can learn where you work and live, what doctor you go to, which religious services you attend, and who your friends are. The public needs access to data the police actually have collected to be able to make informed decisions about how ALPR systems can and can't be used."

The high-tech readers can record up to 14,000 plates during a single shift.

The complaint was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court. EFF and the ACLU have asked a judge to issue a writ directing the agencies to hand over all requested records and award appropriate legal fees.

The police departments say they haven't released the information required by the two privacy groups because it constitutes investigative material, according to media reports.

Edmunds says: It will be interesting to watch how this high-tech battle plays out in the courtroom.

Comments

  • agentorange agentorange Posts:

    "The police departments say they haven't released the information required by the two privacy groups because it constitutes investigative material, ..." Is this a tacit admission that they are investigating everyone?

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