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Judge Allows L.A. Cops To Keep License Plate Reader Data Secret 108

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-can-trust-us dept.
An anonymous reader writes: A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has ruled that the Los Angeles Police Department is not required to hand over a week's worth of license plate reader data to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). He cited the potential of compromising criminal investigations and giving (un-charged) criminals the ability to determine whether or not they were being targeted by law enforcement (PDF). The ACLU and the EFF sought the data under the California Public Records Act, but the judge invoked Section 6254(f), "which protects investigatory files." ACLU attorney Peter Bibring notes, "New surveillance techniques may function better if people don't know about them, but that kind of secrecy is inconsistent with democratic policing."
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Judge Allows L.A. Cops To Keep License Plate Reader Data Secret

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  • Good (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Enry (630)

    Information about the collection techniques (what gets captured, how long are they held, when and how are they destroyed, etc.) is fine. The actual videos themselves may contain enough information to track vehicles over a period of time. We don't really like it when cops do it, why should we let everyone else have this data?

    I don't necessarily like knowing cops have this information but so long as there's rules over the collection (see above) I'm okay with this. If the EFF and ACLU (whom I normally suppo

    • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LifesABeach (234436) on Saturday August 30, 2014 @11:00AM (#47790835)
      A classic case of, "we know better than you?" Now by LAPD. The only thing that was omitted was, "it's for the children."
    • by attemptedgoalie (634133) on Saturday August 30, 2014 @11:13AM (#47790883)

      Is that police department going to find a new revenue source by selling license plate and location data to somebody else who will correlate and sell location likelihood information to businesses/marketing companies?

      Is that police department allowed to tag me in their system even though I wasn't under investigation, but passed their camera? Then, do they get to keep that info forever? What happens if I'm accidentally put on the no-fly list, I mean watch list, I mean...

      These guys can't be trusted to type my license plate correctly, now they get permanent location, tracking and correlation? No.

      I'm no Luddite, but this stuff and its related capabilities makes me want to go live in the woods. I'm sick of this.

      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Do it back to them.

        Install a tracker in front of your house, sell the information online and post a sign in your yard with the website url.

        Move right in front of a Police station and record all their activities. Same thing.

        Develop an app to track current police car location.

        Build a facial photo database of cops and then build an app that automatically watches for their faces from a camera that scans crowds.

        Big data goes both ways my friend. I know it pisses you off, it pisses me off. But I'd rather get tech

        • by ganjadude (952775)
          you know this doesnt sound as crazy as it did the first time i read through it. I mean the truth is that we have to play the game, not just bend over and take it. if a bunch of people in this town set up a camera by their home, and with a little script had it pull the cop car data we could get a real time network of where all cops are.

          we could take the rest of the plate data and sell it to google, who im sure would love access to that and make some money (which we will need due to the increased police
          • I have thought A LOT about tracking the police across the city as a citizen. IN my city all I would need is a camera on some key intersections and i could track every marked car in real time. I figured i could do it with less than $3000 in hardware.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      I don't necessarily like knowing cops have this information but so long as there's rules over the collection (see above) I'm okay with this. If the EFF and ACLU (whom I normally support) wants the actual data, they can get their own OCR license plate cameras and drive around.

      If the data doesn't belong to us, then the cops don't work for us, either. If we don't have a right to the methodology, then we're simply slaves.

      • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jklovanc (1603149) on Saturday August 30, 2014 @01:47PM (#47791481)

        Do you think your income tax records, water usage, parking ticket record, etc should be publicly available? All of this is data owned by the government. Just because it belongs to the people does not mean that is is not private data and should not be available to the public.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          > income tax records, water usage, parking ticket record, etc should be publicly available?

          Since we're playing the "Should game", income tax shouldn't be paid to the public anyway, so moot.

          Water usage is monitored by a private utility company in my area, but yes.

          Parking ticket record. Yes.

          • by jklovanc (1603149)

            Since we're playing the "Should game", income tax shouldn't be paid to the public anyway, so moot.

            That is a cop out and you know it. Income taxes are collected so deal with it.

            So you think all data the government has on someone should be available to the public? How about medical records of veterans? What about a driver's license current address? Stalkers would love that information. There is a lot of information in government hands that I and many others would like to keep confidential.

      • by Enry (630)

        Methodology is different from what is collected. Methodology is "every police vehicle has a model ZRX-9000 plate scanner which is always in operation with results sent in real time to a central server where the data is held for 30 days unless a court orders it to be held longer as part of an ongoing investigation/trial". We should absolutely have that information. But just like I don't need to see your tax records, I don't need to see where you've been for the past week.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          But just like I don't need to see your tax records, I don't need to see where you've been for the past week.

          Oddly, neither does anyone else.

    • by ganjadude (952775)
      very simply I want them to write in a way so that it checks if the car matches the hit list, if yes, marks it, if not, discards it. there should be NO retention of a plate if its not on the "hit list"
      • Every car matches the "hit list". The DMV put it there.

      • by Enry (630)

        What if there were an ongoing crime and results were dumped before it was known that data was needed? What constitutes a "hit list"?

        • by ganjadude (952775)
          id rather let criminals walk, over infringing on innocent americans constitutional rightd
          • by Enry (630)

            What constitutional right? Privacy? Let's see what the EFF says about that:

            https://ssd.eff.org/your-compu... [eff.org]

            That means the police can follow you around in public and observe your activities, see what you are carrying or to whom you are talking, sit next to you or behind you and listen to your conversations — all without a warrant.

            • by ganjadude (952775)
              illegal search and seizure. I have the right to move freely about in my country, without worrying about the government trying to stop me. By keeping a record of everywhere i go via my plate, (without me committing a crime) they are illegally collecting and retaining my information about my travels. Taking the photo is fine, keeping it IMO is not (and if it is, than we should be just as well within our rights to document all movements of the police in public, im talking a google map with a tracker on it show
              • by Enry (630)

                The supreme court and EFF disagree with you. While you have the right to travel freely, you have no right of privacy when in public and collecting information about you and your travels does not impede you traveling. You also have the option of not traveling by your own car - you can rent a car, borrow one from a friend, walk, bike, or take public transit.

                As for your last statement I completely agree that collected data should be deleted after some period of time - enough time that if it's needed as evide

                • by ganjadude (952775)
                  based on the SC and the EFF, it seems as if i would be well within my rights to set up some cameras to OCR plates myself than correct? I could even crowd source it, and post little trackers on particular cars when they pass the citizen cameras showing the routes and routines of anyone I want as well? Cops, federal employees, if i got down to chappaqua and set some up i could even monitor the clintons, all legally correct?? Hey if thats how they want it than i got to start writing a new android/iphone app
                  • by Enry (630)

                    based on the SC and the EFF, it seems as if i would be well within my rights to set up some cameras to OCR plates myself than correct? I could even crowd source it, and post little trackers on particular cars when they pass the citizen cameras showing the routes and routines of anyone I want as well? Cops, federal employees, if i got down to chappaqua and set some up i could even monitor the clintons, all legally correct?? Hey if thats how they want it than i got to start writing a new android/iphone app

                    You can likely do some of that, though some of what you describe (following specific people) would fall under anti-stalking laws. As noted elsewhere in this thread, repo companies are already doing this and businesses have cameras set up on their property and within the store recording your every move. Get writing! You only need a bunch of people willing to do this and a lot of license plate reading equipment.

                    Im not against reasonable retention laws, 30-60 days is well within reason for the numbers not being watched on some list, any longer is too much (I feel the same way about internet logs and phone records, 30-60 days without a court order and it should be purged)

                    Seems reasonable to me.

                    • by ganjadude (952775)
                      no stalking involved, a stationary camera (plus stationary cameras from any one else contributing) plotting plate data on google maps. I can see how politicians would change the meaning of stalking to include something like this however.
                    • by ganjadude (952775)
                      My hope is that it would cause a public uproar, in turn restricting the use by the cops. In other words im not praising the public to do this, but I want the public to watch the watchers
                • by russotto (537200)

                  You also have the option of not traveling by your own car - you can rent a car, borrow one from a friend, walk, bike, or take public transit.

                  If you rent a car or use public transit, they're tracking you through your payment instrument and/or facial recognition. If you walk or bike, facial recognition. If you borrow a car, they'll track down your friend and have him/her rat you out, or use facial recognition.

    • Re:Good (Score:4, Insightful)

      by cHiphead (17854) on Saturday August 30, 2014 @01:24PM (#47791389)

      You're kidding right? This is absolutely a farse. The data set isn't insanely large and they could simply redact any specific records that may relate to active investigations.

      The LAPD obviously doesn't want people to know they just run the shit out of everyone without cause, effectively committing searches without probable or even generally reasonable public safety cause.

      • by Enry (630)

        "What are you collecting" is different from "What did you collect" and "What privacy should be applied to what is collected".

        EFF/ACLU is asking for B which is the wrong question. A and C are far more important without knowing exactly what is collected.

        Here's a scenario:

        You're interviewing for a new job. You drive to the company to interview on site. While you're on your way, the police tag your car in various spots along your trip including the parking lot of the site. Now under normal circumstances, t

        • by symbolic (11752)

          I personally think you've missed the point. The point is that the cops shouldn't tagging *anyone* unless they are currently under investigation. If the cops happen to get a false hit, that data should be expunged *immediately* - immediately in the sense that they never even get to see it, because there is no reason they need it.

          • by Enry (630)

            Why?

            I mean, from a privacy sense, you're in a public place and therefore have no reasonable sense of privacy. Do you chase down people that are taking photographs where you or your car are in the background?

            If you want to talk about what's done with that data after it's been collected that's a different story and not what is being asked for in this case. But you're just as entitled to set up your own license plate tracking system just like the police are.

            Also think of this as a lead in to having police ca

    • Re:Good (Score:4, Informative)

      by Charliemopps (1157495) on Saturday August 30, 2014 @01:46PM (#47791479)

      I don't necessarily like knowing cops have this information but so long as there's rules over the collection (see above) I'm okay with this.

      But you have no idea if they are following those rules at all. Police have a long history of flagrantly violating such rules:
      http://sacramento.cbslocal.com... [cbslocal.com]
      http://www.thenewsherald.com/a... [thenewsherald.com]
      http://articles.courant.com/20... [courant.com]

      And using their position to rape and murder:
      http://abcnews.go.com/Primetim... [go.com]
      http://time.com/3159146/oklaho... [time.com]
      http://articles.courant.com/20... [courant.com]

      Access to 1 weeks worth of data would allow the public as a whole to see how they are being monitored. The few criminal investigations that may be impacted pale in comparison to the overwhelming public right to know what the police are up to.

      • by Enry (630)

        Fine, have an independent oversight board review the records without making them public while keeping the details secret.

        • Fine, have an independent oversight board review the records without making them public while keeping the details secret.

          Which is exactly what could happen here. The Judge could release the data to the EFF and ACLU and put them under a gag order.

          • by Enry (630)

            I'd be fine with that result. So long as we don't start thinking that these kinds of videos are public records that can be searched without a court order.

        • Re:Good (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Rockoon (1252108) on Saturday August 30, 2014 @02:12PM (#47791645)

          Fine, have an independent oversight board review the records without making them public while keeping the details secret.

          I nominate the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) as the independent review boards.

    • by sumdumass (711423)

      The actual videos themselves may contain enough information to track vehicles over a period of time

      You don't even need the videos. LPR tech is used by repo companies all the time (where it isn't outlawed now) and with a short history of hits on a specific license plate, you can specifically identify the habits of a person and realistically track them to a location in which the car can be repossessed while they are not in it.

      But here is why the EFF and such want the information. They want to show how possibl

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Do you think the big secret could the large number of plates scanned and the number of times a plate is scanned each day ?

    Pick out a number of average citizens and see how complete of a days travels were captured ?

    See if you can find your own plate and see if you went anywhere than was NOT captured on a scan.

    Big Brother is watching you. Have a nice day ?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    LA illegally pays judges [judicialwatch.org] additional monies beyond their salary, so why is it a surprise that the judges consistently rule in favor of the LA government?

  • A sufficient time delay before the information becomes public would solve most or all of the problem with compromising investigations. What's the real reason?

    • by westlake (615356)

      A sufficient time delay before the information becomes public would solve most or all of the problem with compromising investigations.

      How do you define "sufficient time" in any meaningful way?

      Real-lie criminal investigations are not wrapped up in the sixty minutes or so they are allotted on a TV show like CSI or Criminal Minds.

      The stakes can be high, quite literally, life and death.

    • If the police put license plate scanners at every intersection in the city instead of just outside the HQ of every street gang then people might ask why they are wasting taxpayer money on that. It's not the specific data, it's the volume that they are trying to hide.
  • by Tokolosh (1256448) on Saturday August 30, 2014 @01:06PM (#47791327)

    I read a lot of discussion comments vilifying Democrat or Republican presidents, representatives and senators. People are slowly realizing that both parties are equally bad. I take this as given, and anticipated by the Founding Fathers.

    The antidote is supposed to be the judiciary, from the bottom all the way up to the Supreme Court. However, the scales are now falling from my eyes. I a sadly conclude that judges are partisan, stupid, have not respect for the Constitution and the long-term consequences of their decisions. They are completely beholden to the executive and legislative branches and have abdicated their responsibilities. They have lost my respect.

    • Don't let it bother you one bit. The government you see and know is not really the government under which you live. Allowing populations to have beliefs and votes is just a dog and pony show to keep the hoople heads calm. Ask yourself why so many tens of thousands of documents relating to the death of JFK are still top secret. Realizing the importance of just that one moment in time just how could information over 50 years old need to be secret. That is about as absurd as stamping top secret on p
  • by Anonymous Coward

    If your evidence collection cannot stand up to public review, it should not stand up to a court's. That is, if you choose to keep these things secret and away from people that can prove your methods may be flawed, then what it collects it should be inadmissible in court as evidence.

    There is absolutely no legitimate reason for this to be a secret.

  • If we use machines to auto track every plate, all the time, then publishing that information would not warn a criminal that they were being watched at all. After all we are all being watched. I see more of an issue with people who live a lie and can't explain to a spouse why they park in certain places over and over again. Really it is only truth that people are worried about. Can people exist without their lies and cheating? Do honest people fear observation?
  • by Immostlyharmless (1311531) on Saturday August 30, 2014 @02:16PM (#47791671)
    If it's just data and your average street cop has access to it, it's hackable. It's only a matter of time.
  • by goodmanj (234846) on Saturday August 30, 2014 @02:28PM (#47791757)

    The ACLU fought the wrong fight on this one. The public should absolutely not have access to *everyone's* plate reader data, that would enable serious privacy abuses and criminal acts ("My ex-wife got a restraining order and hid from me, I'll find her car and then I'll show that bitch...") , and should not have access to lists of people the cops especially want to find (the "hot lists" referred to in the article.)

    But people should be able to use plate reader data for their own vehicles specifically to defend themselves in court. ("I couldn't have killed the guy, the cops saw my car across town five minutes later." And yes, there are obvious holes in that defense, but it's admissible and useful.)

  • by Dereck1701 (1922824) on Saturday August 30, 2014 @02:43PM (#47791837)

    "its value as an investigative tool would be severely compromised."

    I'd be interested to see how these same police departments would respond if identical ALPRs were placed near police stations, government buildings & affluent neighborhoods by private individuals. I imagine it ending quite quickly in threats, arrests & even possibly injuries. Its funny how a surveillance tool is so great until the general public turns it on those in authority (tape recorders, video cameras, cell phone cameras, drones), then it miraculously needs "common sense" restrictions that those in authority are almost always exempt from.

  • Just so this is perfectly clear - I am an 'un-charged criminal', and so are you. What this is proposing is that the basis of innocent until proven guilty, the freedom from undue search and or seizure, which I am quite sure would have included having armed men follow one around observing them at all times, are all guarantees that we have but are not demanding from our own constitution.

    What threat is so great that we accept these conditions? What threat is greater than tyranny and secrecy?

  • I'll avoid visiting.

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