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ACLU Wants Details on License Plate Readers

Civil liberties group says it supports the technology but has privacy concerns about how long the collected information is stored.

Information collected by police through the use of automatic license plate readers could lead to violations of privacy, according to lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union.

The civil liberties group Monday said in a statement that it had filed a public information request with local and state law enforcement agencies in 35 states seeking details on how long the data is stored.

"Automatic license plate readers make it possible for the police to track our location whenever we drive our cars and to store that information forever," said Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, in a statement. "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."

There are more than 320 such devices in use in Maryland. More than 43 percent of those are connected to the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center which used to be tasked with tracking just terrorist activities but now has an expanded role in all crimes, according to the ACLU.

The civil liberties group claims that a private company working for the state of Maryland has scanned more 300,000 license plates since 2005.

"It is unknown how long the location and movements of people in Maryland are stored. Additional provisions stating that the data will not be stored or used in ways that violate federal or state law are completely meaningless, according to the ACLU, because there are currently no meaningful restrictions on the collection, storage, and dissemination of that data," according to the ACLU statement.

"We do not object to using ALPR technology to instantly compare plates against external databases in real time, such as databases of stolen or wanted vehicles, and alerting officers if there is a match," said David Rocah, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, in the statement. "But the technology also allows for the ALPR data to be stored indefinitely, in ever growing databases, creating an increasingly comprehensive picture of our locations and movements, which raises significant privacy concerns. That is precisely what Maryland seems to be claiming the state is doing."

Elise Armacost, a Baltimore County Police Department spokeswoman, said she could not immediately comment on the ACLU request.

Bryce Rumbles July 31, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Seems to me the duration of retention of the data is not important, but HOW the info is used. THAT might actually be subject to regulation.
Bart July 31, 2012 at 01:23 PM
I'm glad to see that somebody is watching out for us.
mcgillicuddy July 31, 2012 at 03:35 PM
I'm with the ACLU on this one. After action is taken on the stolen or wanted autos on the scanned list I feel the whole batch should be deleted.
Arbutus Town Crier July 31, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Mack I agree! in 2015 new cars will have black boxes.
Joe July 31, 2012 at 06:09 PM
ATC, most have them now! As of 2001 I believe. They record 20 seconds or so over and over. It can tell investigators speed, braking and g force. "The on-board computer's (ECM / OBD I / II) data is stored in two types of categories. They are as follows: Non-Deployment Incident is an event that is severe enough to gather information from the sensors but NOT severe enough to deploy the air bag(s). Deployment Incident is an event that is severe enough to gather information from the sensors and to deploy the air bag(s). In both types of incidents the vehicle's processor (RAM) stores in memory, pre and post crash data. The "Black Box" can record informational data, such as: engine / vehicle speed (5 seconds before impact), brake status (5 seconds before impact), throttle position(s), and even the state of the driver's seat belt switch (on/off). The combination of this information along with other engineering factors will indeed revolutionize the field of motor vehicle accident investigation. " There has been law suits already over the privacy issues.
Evets July 31, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Where are the folks who always take the attitude that, "If you have nothing to hide, who cares if they have this information?"
moe green July 31, 2012 at 10:01 PM
who would have thought that i would agree with the american criminal liberties union?
FIFA July 31, 2012 at 10:04 PM
I wonder why you are not a card carrying member?
Freddy July 31, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Not giving you the time of day because people are sick of hear people like you whine over something like this.
Harry Callahan July 31, 2012 at 11:23 PM
If this means that the cops will be rounding up more jerks who are driving without insurance, or driving with suspended or revoked driver's licenses, or driving stolen cars, then I'm for it. I'm trying to figure out why when I'm only engaged in engaging in law-abiding activities and not going to places where I would not tell my wife or children that I'm going would I care about who knows where I'm going.
Nick DiMarco (Editor) August 01, 2012 at 03:41 PM
A comment left by user "adminnikePrinz" has been deleted for violating Patch's terms of use regarding advertising and promotional materials. View the full terms of use here: http://timonium.patch.com/terms
Joe August 01, 2012 at 03:54 PM
FIFA and Frank violate your policy with most every comment which is a personal attack on the posters. ou are solely responsible for the Content that you post on the Service or transmit to other users. Without limitation, you agree that you will not post or transmit to other users anything that contains Content that: is defamatory, abusive, obscene, profane or offensive; is threatening, harassing or that promotes racism, bigotry, hatred or physical harm of any kind against any group or individual; promotes or encourages violence; is inaccurate, false or misleading in any way; What do you plan to do with them? allow their vile attacks?
Steve August 01, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Here Joe, let me call the Waaaaahmbulance for you.
Walter Gilbert August 01, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Uncharacteristic sloppy writing by The Patch: "There are more than 320 such devices in use in Maryland. More than 43 percent of those are connected to the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center ..." Let's see: "more than 320"; well, 10,000 is more than 320. Should I assume there are perhaps 10,000 devices in use in Maryland? If you meant "about 325", then please write "about 325". The same with "more than 43%". The phases "more than <number>" and "less than <number>" belong in car ads, not news articles.
Walter Gilbert August 01, 2012 at 04:41 PM
So, about 300,000 license plates have been scanned since 2005. That's about 120 plates per day. That hardly seems enough to worry about. I could do this in 2 hours seated comfortably beside Belair Rd. I wonder how much this is costing us taxpayers.

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