License Plate Scanners, Pits Policing Against Privacy

License Plate Scanners, Pits Policing Against Privacy

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On the 405, at the grocery store, or parked by the beach, law enforcement could be documenting your car and your license plate.

Automatic license plate recognition cameras are crime fighting tools being used across the country, but privacy rights groups are questioning if the program is really just catching criminals or tracking everyday citizens. 

The system takes a picture of moving and parked cars along with their plates.

It also records the GPS location of the camera at the time it captured the images.  Many cameras are on police cruisers or fixed locations along the street.

The pictures are then matched against a police database of stolen vehicles or ones involved in a crime.

Arcadia Police has been using the technology since 2008.  Captain Paul Foley says, "it sure has made a difference in how we spot a vehicle that was involved in or associated with a crime."

But the American Civil Liberties Union is taking issue with the system since the information from every car scanned by cameras is stored for different lengths of time depending on the jurisdiction.  For the LAPD, it's saved for five years. 

The ACLU argues the system is an invasion of privacy allowing police to have a record of citizen's whereabouts.

ACLU lawyer Peter Bibring filed suit against the LAPD and the Sheriff's Department in order to get a week's worth of records from the cameras to see what the data contains. Bibring says, "This technology threatens to create essentially a huge database of movement of every resident of southern California so it absolutely creates a way for law enforcement to track people over time."  The ACLU wants restrictions in place to shorten the length of time the information is kept and who has access to the database.  

Law enforcement officials insist the data collected is not being used to track individuals and according to Captain Foley, more than "90 percent of the data is never queried and is purged from the system."

The lawsuit is still pending.

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