Civil liberties advocates and citizens are finally waking up to the issues and concerns about passive government surveillance happening with police automatic license plate scanning systems.
As essentialpublicradio.com reports, the ACLU of Pennsylvania is requesting information on how 15 local police departments, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, store and use data collected from their automatic licence plate readers, or ALPR systems. Pennsylvania has a right to know transparency law for how government information is used and collected.
These devices take a digital snapshot of every license plate withing range, up to thousands per hour, whether the police vehicle is sitting by the side of the road, or driving at highway speeds. The license tag is scanned and matched with an onboard computer database that lists any vehicles or persons that could be wanted for any reason, including a car that has been identified as stolen, a vehicle in an amber alert search, or a driver with a warrant for failure to appear in court, or who might have a suspended drivers license. Local law enforcement can also set them to include data for those who might have unpaid parking tickets, municipal taxes, or any purpose they choose.
Beyond the concerns about people legitimately sought by the police is the massive amount of data being collected and stored on those who have not done anything wrong, and are not wanted for any reason. That license plate data is being stored somewhere. So it is entirely possible for the police to search for your licence plate and discover where and when you’ve been tagged whenever you’ve been near one of these systems.
And that data can be correlated and mined in any number of ways. What places to you regularly go? Political gatherings? What other cars and people do you regularly associate with? You can imagine the uses.
Most ALPR systems bought with federal grants REQUIRE that the data collected is shared with national law enforcement databases.
So these are all legitimate and frightening questions that need to be ask. So it is great news that the ACLU is finally asking them.