By on October 24, 2014

Automatic Plate Number Reader

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.

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23 Comments on “Privacy Advocates Take Law Enforcement To Task Over Handling Of License Plate Data...”


  • avatar
    thelaine

    The government protects you, provides for you and knows what is best for you. If you comply, you have nothing to worry obout.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      Cynicism is like candy. It provides an immediate satisfying sensation, but it rots the soul just as sugar rots teeth.

      One solution would be to disallow the use of any license plate data unless a warrant is issued for said use. It is certainly possible to create guidelines for the collection, use and re-use of that data. The problem I have with the cynical attitude is that it declares defeat before we have even begun to consider how we might control this new technology and make it serve us rather than oppress us.

  • avatar
    petezeiss

    If we didn’t think The Government is evil, pernicious, rogue and corrupt… we’d all feel a lot less special.

    • 0 avatar
      Drewlssix

      The government is many things and it need not be evil or corrupt to warrant limiting its power. If you are not willing to study history both recent and ancient then at least heed the cynics that have.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself. – James Madison

    • 0 avatar
      petezeiss

      One bromide I especially despise is “People get the government they deserve”. It’s right up there with “All men are created equal”.

      People get the government they don’t have the time, skills or resources to prevent.

      There will always be Roves and Axelrods packaging and selling Bushes and Obamas. And that’s in the gentle world of wealthy democracies, the rest of the planet is unspeakably worse.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      Thanks Dan. I hope it’s not wasted on us. The sound framework they built is of no value if it’s not cherished, protected and used.

    • 0 avatar
      ect

      PrincipalDan, very good, very appropriate.

      I am generally supportive of police officers – they have a very difficult job – but we also need to recognize that police culture (like military culture) often divides the world into “them and us”.
      Just as a hammer sees everything else as a nail. so do law enforcement bureaucracies tend to see all outsiders as real or potential criminals. Which is why civilian oversight is so necessary.

      And which is why the ability of the police structure to gather and collate data on lawful civilians engaged in lawful activities needs to be very tightly circumscribed, or (even better) eliminated.

      My parents (ordinary, middle class folk) taught their children that one of the advantages of living in a free society is that no one in authority has the right to require that you account for or justify your presence or activities, simply because you are in a public place. A lesson my wife and I passed on to our daughter.

      The police should never have the authority to track the activities of people who are not then engaged in criminal activity, much less share that with other agencies in a a way that enables the creation of a record of the innocent activities of innocent people. Period.

  • avatar
    Whoa Befalls Electra

    I learned a new term today, panopticon. Thank you.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    “OK, maybe there’s not an investigation now, but there could be one down the road”

    Right after we’ve collected all this data on you , now suddenly you fit a certain profile and we’re investigating you.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    “Who watches the watchmen?”

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    “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?

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    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.”


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