Privacy Advocates Take Law Enforcement To Task Over Handling Of License Plate Data

Cameron Aubernon
by Cameron Aubernon

The panopticon grows taller every day, as motorists who try to learn what information is gathered by the automatic license plate readers face roadblock after roadblock, with three cases set to determine once and for all what can be seen.

Autoblog reports the advocacy groups, journalists and private citizens supporting the cases aim to help uncover how and what data is collected and used by police, while the police support keeping the electric eye solely on others under the premise that the data is part of ongoing investigations. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reporter Steve Orr, who filed a FOIA request with Monroe County officials about his own vehicle, disputes the reasoning:

What investigation is that? Most people in the database are not, and haven’t been associated with an investigation. There’s no criminal concern here… They’re saying, “OK, maybe there’s not an investigation now, but there could be one down the road”… What it says is that we’re all suspects in waiting.

Another case in Los Angeles calls out both the LAPD and Los Angeles Sheriffs Department for the same issue and the reasoning behind it. According to Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Jennifer Lynch, the data collected would be held for, at most, two days before being deleted, as it wouldn’t be necessary to hold onto it for longer during a stolen vehicle investigation.

However, most law enforcement agencies can hold onto plate data for two to five years, if not indefinitely. Further, the data could be pooled with other agencies, eventually coalescing into a picture of a given driver’s personal life as tracked by the plate readers. Without public oversight in how the data — obtained from a public piece of identification — is used, it would become “too easy for the government to overreach,” per the American Civil Liberties Union.

Cameron Aubernon
Cameron Aubernon

Seattle-based writer, blogger, and photographer for many a publication. Born in Louisville. Raised in Kansas. Where I lay my head is home.

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  • OneAlpha OneAlpha on Oct 24, 2014

    "Further, the data could be pooled with other agencies, eventually coalescing into a picture of a given driver’s personal life as tracked by the plate readers." The interaction between jurisdictions is a screwy, inconsistent thing. Years ago, I took a job in Connecticut and when I moved there, I applied for a carry permit. I had to fill out the standard paperwork and pass a background check, of course. But here's what bothered me. I was asking the state of Connecticut to trust me with carrying a loaded pistol in public, and they wanted to be sure that I wasn't a threat to anyone. Okay, fine, no problem. I told them, "but I've had a Pennsylvania carry permit for five years. They think I'm okay. Why do I need to pass YOUR background check? Isn't the good word of the state of Pennsylvania enough for you?" Essentially they said, "well, YOU say you're good to go, and PENNSYLVANIA says you're good to go, but WE need to make sure for ourselves." But something tells me that if some government agency in PA contacted some government agency in CT and told them I was a criminal of some sort, they'd take PA's good word at face value on that one, without any independent verification. Professional courtesy? Who knows. It does make you wonder, though. What good are jurisdictional limits if police agencies work together as a matter of course, but only if it benefits them?

    • Petezeiss Petezeiss on Oct 24, 2014

      Political and professional fallout will be local if you do something bad locally. Plus fees, bureaucracy bloat and vendors doom any simple rationality.

  • Halftruth Halftruth on Oct 24, 2014

    Our forefathers (US) knew that controls and checks had to be put in place AND followed when equals are ruling over equals. Unfortunately, alot of this is trampled upon in the name of "safety". The Fear Machine was created to facilitate all of this. And it works well as the sheeple simply accept what is fed to them via the PictureBox/TruthBox. "It shows me pretty pictures with pretty people. It must be true."

  • RobbyG $100k+...for a Jeep. Are they selling these in fantasy land?Twin turbo V-6 paired to an 8-speed transmission. Yet still only gets 14mpg.Whatever money you think you would save over a V-8 will be spent 2-3x amount fixing these things when they blow up.
  • Alan Well the manufacturers are catching up with stocks. This means shortages of parts is reducing. Stocks are building around the world even Australia and last year had the most vehicles ever sold here.
  • Larry You neglected to mention that the 2024 Atlas has a US Government 5-Star Safety Rating.
  • Alan Why is it that Toyota and Nissan beat their large SUVs (Patrol/300 Series) with an ugly stick and say they are upmarket? Whilst they are beating the vehicles with an ugly stick they reduce the off road ability rather than improve it.As I've stated in previous comments you are far better off waiting for the Patrol to arrive than buy an overpriced vehicle.
  • Alan How many people do you see with a 4x4 running mud tyres? How many people do you see with a 4x4 running massive rims and low profile tyres? How many people have oversize mirrors for towing once in a blue moon? How many 4x4s do you see lifted? How many people care what tyres they run to save fuel? The most comfortable tyres are more or less the most economical.