NYCLU Demands Police Records on License Plate Readers

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 27:  Opponents of the N...

[IW: ALPR = Stop & Frisk for Cars]

The New York  Civil Liberties Union this week asked law enforcement officials in the Lower Hudson Valley, Suffolk County, Nassau County and Western New York, as well as the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, to turn over records about how they use automatic license plate readers (ALPR) to track and record New Yorkers’ movements. The request was filed as part of a nationally coordinated public records request with 34 other American Civil Liberties Union state affiliates.

ALPRs are cameras mounted on patrol cars  or on stationary objects along roads – such as telephone poles or the underside of bridges –that snap a photograph of every license plate that enters their fields of view. Typically, each photo is  time, date and GPS-stamped, stored and sent to a database, which provides an alert to a patrol officer whenever a match or “hit” appears.

“License plate readers have the potential to track, record and store information forever on every single motorist on our streets, regardless of whether drivers are actually suspected of any crimes or not,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “The police don’t need to know every time you’ve gone to the drycleaner or supermarket, and they certainly shouldn’t be tracking who attends a protest, goes to a particular church, or visits the psychiatrist. We need legal protections to limit the collection, retention and sharing of our travel information.”

ALPRs are spreading rapidly around the country, but the public has little information about how they are used to track motorists’ movements, including how long data collected by ALPRs is stored, and whether local police departments pool this information in state, regional or national databases. If ALPRs are being used as a tool for mass  routine location tracking and surveillance and to collect and store information not just on people suspected of crimes, but on every single motorist, the American people should know that so that they can voice their concerns.

ALPRs have already proven controversial. Just last month the Drug Enforcement Administration withdrew its request to install ALPRs along certain portions of Interstate 15 in Utah after they were met with resistance by local lawmakers.

“The American people have a right to know whether our police departments are using these tools in a limited and responsible manner, or whether they are keeping records of our movements for months or years for no good reason,” said Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project.


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