Associated Press: As police scan millions of license plates, civil libertarians question how info is being used
We’ve discussed the privacy and civil liberty issues connected with the use of license-plate-scanner recognition technology to gather and record drivers’ movements. Often, we don’t know what the restrictions are on the collection and use of the data. (See a previous post for more information on the camera surveillance technology.) Now, the Associated Press reports on privacy and civil liberty questions as the camera surveillance systems are proliferating nationwide:
LOS ANGELES — A rapidly expanding digital network that uses cameras mounted to traffic signals and police cruisers captures the movements of millions of vehicles across the U.S., regardless of whether the drivers are being investigated by law enforcement.
The license plate scanning systems have multiplied across the U.S. over the last decade, funded largely by Homeland Security grants, and judges recently have upheld authorities’ rights to keep details from hundreds of millions of scans a secret from the public.
Such decisions come as a patchwork of local laws and regulations govern the use of such technology and the distribution of the information they collect, inflaming civil liberties advocates who see this as the next battleground in the fight over high-tech surveillance. […]
About 7 in 10 law enforcement agencies used license plate scanners in 2012 and an overwhelming majority planned to acquire such systems or expand their use, according to a study by the Police Executive Research Forum, a research and policy group.
Civil liberties advocates say these files need to be open to public scrutiny to prevent government overreach and unconstitutional privacy invasions.
On the other side are government and law enforcement officials who say they’re not misusing the systems and that tracking and storing the data can help with criminal investigations, either to incriminate or exonerate a suspect.