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ACLU Questions Privacy of License Plate Scanners 246

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-can-trust-us dept.
coastal984 writes with news that the American Civil Liberties Union is launching a nation-wide effort to find out how police departments are using and retaining information gathered from license plate scanners. They've sent FOIA requests to departments in 38 states, as well as the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Transportation. "It’s not an exaggeration to say that in ten years there will be [automatic license plate readers] just about everywhere, making detailed records of every driver’s every movement, and storing it for who knows how long. In some cases, we know that the worst-case scenario—vast databases with records of movements of massive numbers of people—is already happening. To avoid this fate we need to convince the nation and our lawmakers to take action on this serious threat to our liberty. And to make a convincing case, we need to know a lot more about the problem as it stands. Last year, most people didn’t know why we should call our mobiles 'trackers' instead of phones; there was very little public information on how police departments were using our phones to track our location. The ACLU stepped in and spearheaded a massive public records project, bringing together affiliates from every part of the country, obtaining documents that showed how police nationwide were getting access to our intimate information without judicial oversight."
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ACLU Questions Privacy of License Plate Scanners

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  • Re:Swap vehicles (Score:5, Informative)

    by jc42 (318812) on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @11:25AM (#40829265) Homepage Journal

    There's nothing requiring the owner of the car to be the one driving it.

    And there was an instructive example of this that got a bit of publicity back in the 1970s, mostly in the scientific press. The reports described a researcher who had for some years had his grant applications turned down without explanation. After a lot of questioning, he finally learned that he was on a US government list of "subversives". Further questioning turned up the explanation: There was a listed "subversive" group that had regular meetings in his city, some distance from where he lived or worked. The security investigators drove down the street during the group's meetings, recording all the auto license numbers, and kept a list of the numbers that belonged to people who didn't live or work nearby. His license number was on the list of regular attendees.

    The explanation was that, after his teenage son got his driver's license, he regularly borrowed his dad's car to visit his girl friend, who lived on the same block as the "subversive" meeting. The security folks didn't notice the car was often there on days of non-meetings, only that it was there on many of the meeting days. The car was registered to the kid's father, so they concluded that the car's owner was at the meeting. Why else would he be there on meeting nights?

    Once you get on a "subversive" list, of course, it's next to impossible to get off it. This sort of thing is worth remembering when people are talking about such tracking efforts. You and I could easily be on assorted government lists for equally accurate reasons.

    These days, the word is "terrorist" rather than "subversive" or "anti-American" or whatever, but the problems are no different. There will be many false positives. Witch hunts are a universal in human society.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @11:35AM (#40829395)

    JUSTICE ALITO: Well, that seems to get to me to get to what's really
    involved here, the issue of whether there is a technical trespass or
    not is potentially a ground for deciding this particular case, but it
    seems to me the heart of the problem that's presented by this case and
    will be presented by other cases involving new technology is that in
    the pre-computer, pre-Internet age much of the privacy -- I would say
    most of the privacy -- that people enjoyed was not the result of legal
    protections or constitutional protections; it was the result simply of
    the difficulty of traveling around and gathering up information. But
    with computers, it's now so simple to amass an enormous amount of
    information about people that consists of things that could have been
    observed on the streets, information that was made available to the
    public. If this case is decided on the ground that there was a
    technical trespass, I don't have much doubt that in the near future it
    will be probable -- I think it's possible now in many instances -- for
    law enforcement to monitor people's movements on -- on public streets
    without committing a technical trespass.
    So how do we deal with this? Do we just say, well, nothing is changed,
    so that all the information that people expose to the public -- is, is
    fair game? There is no -- there is no search or seizure when that is
    -- when that is obtained, because there isn't a reasonable expectation
    of privacy? But isn't there a real change in -- in this regard?

  • Re:Use a Frame (Score:5, Informative)

    by OverlordQ (264228) on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @11:35AM (#40829401) Journal

    Dont read your own laws then?

    186.170 Display of registration plates, insignia-
    No rim, frame, or other covering around the plate shall in any way obscure
    or cover any lettering or decal on the plate

    186.170 00449 RIM OR FRAME OBSCURING LETTERING OR DECAL ON PLATE VIOLATION [kentuckystatepolice.org]

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