ACLU Report: All Vehicle License Plates Are Being Tracked
A new ACLU study finds that law enforcement agencies across the U.S. have been collecting millions of digital records on the location and movement of every vehicle with a license plate, according to an Associated Press (AP) article in The Denver Post. And that information is being kept in police databases for weeks or years, and sometimes indefinitely, writes Anne Flaherty for AP.
The ACLU report, titled “You Are Being Tracked,” was published on Wednesday and says that agencies have been collecting the data with scanners mounted on police cars, bridges, and buildings. It lists some U.S. cities or states and how long they hold onto the scanned records.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol’s license plate reader policy says that all “non-hit” (people who have done nothing wrong) captures should be deleted immediately, the report says. Burbank, Illinois, keeps such records for 21 days, while the state of New Jersey holds onto them for five years, the list shows, as ACLU staff attorney Catherine Crump writes for the ACLU blog. Aurora and Commerce City, Colorado, are two of the cities on the list that retain such records for two years.
Flaherty quotes Crump: “There’s just a fundamental question of whether we’re going to live in a society where these dragnet surveillance systems become routine.” The civil liberties group wants police departments to immediately delete any records of cars not linked to a crime, Flaherty writes. She then presents the other side of the argument:
Law enforcement officials said the scanners can be crucial to tracking suspicious cars, aiding drug busts and finding abducted children. License plate scanners also can be efficient. The state of Maryland told the ACLU that troopers could ‘maintain a normal patrol stance’ while capturing up to 7,000 license plate images in a single eight hour shift.
‘At a time of fiscal and budget constraints, we need better assistance for law enforcement,’ said Harvey Eisenberg, chief of the national security section and assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland.
The ACLU report says that of one million license plates scanned, 2,000 of those have committed crimes, of which 47 are serious ones. The vast majority of “hits” are for minor regulatory violations, the report says.
Lt. Bill Hedgpeth, a spokesman for the Mesquite Police Department in Texas, told Flaherty that there is no expectation of privacy for a vehicle driving on a public road or parked in a public place. “It’s just a vehicle. It’s just a license plate,” he said.
In one of the comments to The Denver Post article, “Viking Speaks” writes:
OMG, what a non story. It’s called technology not spying. Security cams take the place of bored security guards, Toll cams do the same. Signal cams help stop speeders and catch criminal activity on our highways and streets. All of this is deployed to better secure self, home and property and save money. Police and the government have been using it for a long time before it became ‘1984ish’…