Wired Magazine and AutoBlog has articles today that the increasing controversy over the use of License Plate Readers by law enforcement is a violation of privacy rights and may violate the Fourth Amendment. Internal FBI documents says that its own lawyers told them to stop purchasing the devices back in 2012 due to civil rights issues. Even so, automated license plate readers are being used nationwide by the FBI and local police.
The documents, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through a public records request, show the FBI’s own Office of General Counsel was grappling with concerns about the agency’s use of the technology and the apparent lack of a cohesive government policy to protect the civil liberties of citizens whose vehicles are photographed by the readers. That apparently prompted an order from the OGC to temporarily put the brakes on further purchases.
It’s not known when the FBI resumed purchasing the devices, but the revelations show that even within the FBI there are those who have questioned the privacy implications of a technology widely seen by some as invasive.
Civil liberties groups argue that the readers, widely used not only by the FBI but by local police departments around the country, and the databases that store the license plate images pose a fundamental risk to privacy because in the aggregate they can reveal sensitive information about a person’s travels and activities. Critics of the technology also say the readers capture more than just license plate numbers. A California man who filed a public records request to receive copies of images collected by his local law enforcement agency obtained more than 100 images of his vehicle in various locations, including one that showed him and his daughters exiting their car while it was parked in their driveway.
Automated License Plate Readers used to monitor attendees at Obama and Sarah Palin campaign events.
The ACLU and others fear that if enough of these records are collected on a given license-plate, that law-enforcement officials can paint a comprehensive picture of a driver’s life, gleaning details like where they attend worship services, which doctors they visit and which political parties they support. In 2008, Virginia state police monitored attendees who attended campaign appearances by Barack Obama and Sarah Palin using these devices.
Beyond concerns over individual privacy, the ACLU also says these records can be used to draw connections between people who attend the same events. Concerns are driven, at least in part, by a lack of knowledge on how the devices are used by the FBI.
More at AutoBlog