In a move to be more efficient, the LAPD and LA County Sheriff’s Department armed with new highly-effective license plate scanners have been able to log license plate numbers much more effectively to aid in thefts and for tracking suspects. As always, it comes at a cost.
That cost is keeping records of people who have done nothing wrong. LAPD refuses to release this collected information to civil liberty advocates, which has now led to a lawsuit.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed public records requests in an attempt to see LA law enforcement’s policies around the scanners’ use. They also tried to secure the data of plate readings for a week to get a better idea of just how many people are scanned on average by LAPD. Both requests were rejected last week, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Police agencies cited sections of California law that allow police departments to shield record of ongoing investigations from the public. This denial has led to the legal action in question.
This lawsuit is just one example of many similar cases across the nation regarding how much police departments should reveal about the increased use of these police devices. A 2010 study by George Mason University revealed a single scan by License Plate Recognition Technology (LPR) can log the number and location of 14,000 cars in a day when paired with a GPS device.
In Southern California alone, local police departments have logged more than 160 million data points, according to LA Weekly. Each data point represents a car and its exact whereabouts at a given time and these points are logged into a huge database.
For every one of the 7,014,131 vehicles registered in LA County, the police has conducted 22 scans on average. LA Weekly reveals that because of the imprecise nature of the process, some cars have been scanned multiple times while some have never been scanned at all.
This is, for lack of a better term, essentially a “Big Brother” society we are living in.
If the new license plate scanners were used properly for the intentions they were made for—to check for stolen vehicles or warrant issues without wasting valuable police resources—there would be no problem. The problem with this new technology arises when it is used to ostensibly keep tabs on every citizen, criminal or not. LAPD hangs on to the data for five years—data which reveals each and every move a person makes while driving LA County streets.
The LAPD is invading every driver’s privacy. Every driver is being monitored like a hawk as units scan and photograph every license plate within view, logging the time and location of each car. Again, the scans are used to check against a list of wanted vehicles to see if there is a match, but if there is not, the information is still uploaded to a central database and stored (in case they may need it one day).
There is no reason for the police to need your information and whereabouts if you are not a criminal. It is an invasion of your privacy.
Investigators don’t need a warrant or probable cause to access the database and check where a car has been in the past. Yes, knowing a vehicle’s every move which can be a great thing when it comes to tracking stolen vehicles, but the majority of the cars in the database are not connected to any crimes.
And if most of the plates in the database are from non-criminals, it makes no sense for the police to keep the information confidential, instead of simply making it look like they are hiding insidious from California residents.
The majority of citizens in LA already have a hard time trusting law enforcement. This situation is just making a known problem worse.