California law enforcement agencies utilize automated license plate readers (ALPR) that collect and store images of license plates as vehicles pass within an ALPR’s view. ALPRs are cameras that are located throughout a law enforcement agency’s jurisdiction atop fixed objects, such as light poles, and on moving objects, such as patrol cars. As the cameras capture the images of every vehicle that passes within its range, the images are converted into data that then goes into a searchable database. ALPR assists law enforcement in locating a vehicle involved in a crime, stolen vehicles, child kidnappings and other investigations.
For example, the police are alerted to an armed robbery after the suspects took off in vehicle that a witness was able to get a partial license plate read on before the vehicle sped out of view. By consulting the ALPR database in real time, the police are able to track any ALPR locations the vehicle passed, helping law enforcement locate the suspects.
The ALPR data is used to feed into “hot lists” that are lists of vehicle license plates connected to a crime investigation or associated with a person of interest. However, because ALPRs do not discriminate between license plates, every vehicle that drives by an ALPR is fed into the system. In Los Angeles County, 99.9 percent of the APLR license plates do not make a match to a hot list, but the data is stored anyway.
ALPRs raises significant privacy concerns. That was the finding of the recent California State Auditor’s Office, which was tasked by the Legislature to conduct an audit of the ALPR systems used across the state. ALPRs are mass surveillance systems that are, according to the audit, being used for inappropriate purposes. The use of these systems, according to the auditor, does not reflect the privacy principles required by California Civil Code section 1798.28, which regulates ALPRs requiring specific privacy procedures of the systems.
The audit found the ALPRs were collecting and storing data, and in some cases, that included names, addresses, dates of birth, in cloud storage administered by a third-party vendor. The data also has information concerning the travel patterns of individuals, which could be used for nefarious purposes. The audit gave the example of the possibility of using this travel data to blackmail an individual—you need only use a little bit of imagination to see how that could happen. There were no contractual guarantees that these third-party vendors would protect the privacy of this data. The audit also found that the data is stored much longer than should be necessary. In Los Angeles County for example, it was found that this data was stored for five years. Furthermore, the ALPR data is indiscriminately shared with hundreds of other agencies across the country.
Most drivers are unaware that their movements are being captured as they move through the streets and then stored in a database perhaps for years. While ALPRs can be a useful law enforcement tool, they also pose worrisome privacy concerns and could spill over to civil rights violations. In this age of technology usage for mass surveillance, our rights and freedoms enshrined in the United States Constitution are increasingly weakened.
Orange County criminal defense attorney William Weinberg will fight for you rights to the full extent under the law. He is available for a complementary consultation regarding your matter. Should you choose to hire him for your defense, he offers flexible payment options designed to meet your financial requirements. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phoning his Irvine office at 949-474-8008.