License plate reader database

Dallas police received the go-ahead this morning to purchase a 28-unit automated license plate reading system and perhaps expanded that to as many as 140 cameras over the next year five years. But there will be continued debate about how the cameras – which will scan millions of license plates – will be used. The policy is still in a draft form, and many of questions couldn’t be answered at Wednesday morning’s City Council meeting.
Council member Angela Hunt, who has privacy concerns about the cameras usage, was the lone vote against the purchase. Dallas Police Chief David Brown proposed three to six months, which he said is generally considered a best practice nationally.
That would still allow police to find stolen cars and drivers with warrants but would make the database unusable for future investigations. The initial purchase will be $603,622 for the equipment and another $146,470 for a service contract. Our City Hall reporters and other Dallas Morning News writers and editors provide in-depth features, breaking news and offbeat tidbits through lively coverage of Dallas government.
Back in October, we detailed the increasing difficulty motorists face in obtaining records generated by automated license-plate readers, even if the records involved their own vehicles. In several instances, law-enforcement agencies restricted the public's access to these controversial records by claiming that they're part of broad, ongoing investigations.
But policies on releasing license-plate recorder data are largely set by the municipality that owns the readers, and those policies can vary widely. In response to a public-records request from news outlet Ars Technica, the department handed over more than 4.6 million records generated from license-plate readers in Oakland, CA.
On releasing the information, Oakland police captain Anthony Toribio said, "we have nothing to hide. That's a far different view on record accessibility than the one held by his counterpart in Los Angeles, where officials have argued millions of records are not subject to disclosure because they're part of ongoing investigations, even if the motorists whose plates are scanned are not under suspicion of any particular crime. License-plate readers have been controversial because they're a potential threat to privacy.

Those concerns have been somewhat theoretical – without a large data set, it's hard for the public to know how the surveillance records are used and to what extent their private information may be at risk.
In a meeting with an Oakland city council member, Ars said it "was able to accurately guess the block where the council member lives after a minute of research using his license plate data." For others, the outlet could accurately predict which bar a person drank at often and where they worked.
There's fascinating detail in the story, which, if anything, should serve as a convincing reminder to motorists that if they're driving in their car, license-plate readers are one more tool being used to track their whereabouts. Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline.
Credit: Associated PressAround the country, police are adopting the widespread use of automatic license plate readers, and storing photos with time and location records in databases that are not subject to judicial oversight.
A computer security consultant who spoke with CIR requested records of his own police scans several years ago, and found that his county police had logged this information once a week on average.
Like other forms of location tracking, license plate readers pose obvious privacy concerns, which is why several states and jurisdictions have limited their use, with New Hampshire banning them entirely. Courts have grappled recently with other surveillance tools, but license plate readers have not come under scrutiny. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU have filed lawsuits to gain access to the data. At a future meeting, a City Council committee will discuss the policy governing how the data is used, how long it’s stored and who has access to it.
The cameras – mounted on police cars and in stationary locations – automatically scan massive numbers of license plates and then match them to lists of stolen cars, wanted criminals and vehicles associated with Amber Alerts. One of her main concerns was the amount of time license plate location data is kept on vehicles with no connection to a crime. Hunt however was the only council member who expressed a serious concern about the readers, which have generated private debates in many places where they were adopted. Your comments are subject to our Terms of Service and the privacy policy and terms of service of your social network. Case in point: the Oakland Police Department has released what may be the largest set of LPR data ever seen by the public.

With enough records stored on a particular vehicle, the government could learn sensitive information about law-abiding citizens, such as where they go to church, which doctors they visit and which political rallies they attend.
With such a dataset now in hand, Ars Technica has shown exactly how the data can be used to sketch a portrait of an ordinary citizen's daily habits. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.
In California, the Center for Investigative Reporting reveals that this data collection is widespread, with multiple counties creating coordinated databases that enable more thorough police location tracking of everyone, regardless of whether they are suspected of a crime. And a recent report from the International Association of Chiefs of Police has said tracking driver locations could raise First Amendment questions, as it collects data about individuals’ activities, religious practices, and even political protests.
Depending on where scanners are positioned, law enforcement could also potentially monitor who crosses a community's borders. And a New Jersey county recently purchased the license plate readers under a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. But in places where legislative limits have not been set, police are expanding their use of the tactic.
Supreme Court decision last term significantly limited police use of GPS devices, in holding that attaching one to a suspect’s car without a warrant and monitoring his activity for 28 days constituted a “search.” Police have since turned to other tactics, including cell tower data, as an alternative means of location-tracking, and lower court rulings have set varying limits on the practice. But information collected has been used to solve domestic crime and enforce small-time violations, including parking restrictions or motorists who run red lights.
In New York City, police have used the readers to catch car thieves and identify motorists with open warrants.

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