There is more wacky traffic enforcement news coming out of Missouri this month than any other state. Last week, the Missouri attorney general began proceedings to shut down the ability of thirteen speed-trap-infested towns to generate excessive revenue from traffic tickets. Also last week, the cities of O’Fallon, Lake Saint Louis and St. Peters filed suit against St. Charles County saying its residents illegally voted for a ban on red light cameras. The suit actually admitted that the rationale was the potential loss of revenue rather than due to any safety concerns. Even better, the former mayor of St. Peters was convicted in 2006 of accepting cash kickbacks from a red light camera company. (For a truly astounding list of government officials who have been caught taking bribes from photo enforcement companies, go here.)
The big story is that the Missouri ACLU is going after the police department in the Kansas City suburb of Grain Valley for issuing tickets to motorists who tried to warn other drivers of speed-traps by flashing their headlights or high beams. My first thought was: wow, people really still do that?
TTAC has recently addressed the issue of police using scanning technology to read license plates and then store their street locations. When the story broke, it centered on a few counties in Northern California, but the American Civil Liberties Union has just released documents that show that the practice is widespread across the United States and that few of the police agencies or private companies that are scanning license plates and storing that data, making it possible to retroactively track drivers, have any meaningful rules in place to protect drivers’ privacy. There are few controls on how the collected data is accessed and used. The documents reveal that many police departments keep the information on millions of people’s locations for years, or even indefinitely, whether or not they are suspected of a crime. Data on tens of millions of drivers is being logged and stored.
Over the recent years, Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) has come into increased use. What has the American Civil Liberties Union up in arms is that the data are stored and can be used to compile behavioral profiles on innocent civilians. The state of Maryland seems to be in the lead when it comes to centralized aggregation and storage of ALPR data, “which raises significant privacy concerns,” says the ACLU.