The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed suit in state Superior Court Monday, saying police should release a week's worth of data collected and stored by patrol car-mounted cameras that continuously scan vehicle license plates in search of stolen vehicles or vehicles registered to individuals with outstanding arrest warrants.
The ACLU said it has no problem with police using technology to search for stolen cars or wanted criminals -- but objects because innocent drivers are having their whereabouts chronicled and saved as well, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department each declined to release the license plate information sought under California's public information law, saying it was part of ongoing investigations.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said the plate scanners provide immense help to detectives by collecting and storing data that can be used to verify someone's whereabouts if a crime is committed in the future.
"As an investigative tool, it has unlimited potential," Beck said in an article published on the website Govtech.com. "That will be its strongest use ... being able to track vehicles -- where they've been and what they've been doing -- and tie that to crimes that have occurred or that will occur."
ACLU lawyer Peter Bibring said everyday citizens shouldn't be monitored by police when they've done nothing wrong.
"This technology has led to police maintaining data on every resident of Los Angeles that they manage to scan ... even law-abiding residents, and that's a real concern," Bibring said.
Bibring said a policy whereupon the departments destroy license plate data not germane to ongoing investigations within a short amount of time would be more appropriate than keeping every plate scan on file indefinitely.
The groups are seeking to release the documents to raise public awareness about law enforcement's tracking people's movements.