ACLU questions license plate photo-taking

July 30, 2012 at 7:02 PM
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NEW YORK, July 30 (UPI) -- The American Civil Liberties Union said Monday it wants to learn what authorities are doing with photos they take of people's vehicle license plates.

The ACLU said has started a nationwide effort to find out more about automatic license plate readers, which can snap as many as 3,000 photographs per minute, and what government officials are doing with them and information they have garnered about "who was where when."

The license plate readers, the ACLU said in a statement posted on its Web site, are "fundamentally threatening our freedom on the open road."

"We need statutory protections to limit the collection, retention and sharing of our travel information, and we need to find out more about this technology," said the rights group, which is based in New York.

The ACLU said the Homeland Security, Justice and Transportation departments have given millions of dollars to state and local law enforcement agencies to buy thousands of the plate readers, with the pooled information dumped into "mega-databases, allowing local, state and federal law enforcement to track ordinary motorists' movements without any kind of judicial oversight -- all with the click of a button."

The organization said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration "is planning to install a network of plate readers on major highway systems nationwide" and "Homeland Security clocks every car that enters the country."

"Local and state police departments operate many thousands of ALPR systems nationwide -- how many and to what extent, we aren't sure," the ACLU said "Together these programs form a network of data points that can tell the government a lot about our lives."

Only New Hampshire and Maine have laws regulating the use of license plate readers, the ACLU said.

The organization said its affiliates in 38 states are filing public records requests to state and local law enforcement agencies to find out how widespread ALPR deployment is and whether there are "commonsense privacy protections in place."

The group said it is filing federal Freedom of Information Act requests with the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Transportation "to learn about how these agencies are funding ALPR expansion nationwide, how they are using the technologies themselves, and how they are accessing state, regional and local databases."

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