ACLU Worried About License Plate Records

     BOSTON (CN) – Civil rights activists have sued for information about how federal authorities use data from automatic license plate readers, which can log 1,800 plates per minute, implicating the whereabouts of millions of Americans.
     The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts says the government has not complied with its June 30 request for information regarding “the government’s policies, practices, and procedures for gathering, storing, retaining, and pooling the data collected.”
     The FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency and other agencies petitioned by the ACLU acknowledged receipt of the requests, but none have released any information regarding the system to date, according to the complaint.
     Buoyed by lowering costs and grants to invest in technology, law enforcement agencies are increasingly embracing automatic readers, known as ALPRs, according to the complaint.
     From a vantage point such as a telephone pole, bridge or patrol car, the cameras snap pictures of plates on passing cars. The devices allegedly run these plate numbers against crime databases, such as lists of stolen cars.
     Though the ACLU says that there are legit law-enforcement uses for the technology, it says there is also potential for abuse.
     “When agencies retain data about people not suspected of wrongdoing and pool data from discrete ALPR systems into state, regional, and national databases, ALPRs raise the prospect of pervasive and prolonged surveillance of innocent Americans’ movements and start to pose a serious threat to Americans’ privacy,” the complaint states.
     Despite this risk, there is allegedly very little information about the system and use of the technology remains highly unregulated nationwide, the ACLU says.
     Only two states, Maine and New Hampshire, have passed legislation limiting how the technology can legally be used, according to the complaint.
     “Accordingly, there is a strong public interest in disclosure of the records requested,” the ACLU says.
     The organization seeks an injunction under the Freedom of Information Act, forcing the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security to release the requested data. It also wants a waiver of filing fees.
     The group is represented by staff attorneys Catherine Crump and Laura Rotolo.

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