ACLU Asks Law Enforcement How License Plate Readers Are Used

Maryland, Virginia among 35 states seeking information on plate readers

Monday, Jul 30, 2012  |  Updated 5:43 PM EDT
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ACLU Asks How License Plate Readers Are Used

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American Civil Liberties Union affiliates from 35 states are asking police and state agencies to better explain how they use automatic license plate readers.

The ACLU of Virginia sent requests Monday to the Virginia State Police, the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office and police departments in Fairfax County, Virginia Beach, Prince William County, Chesterfield County, Henrico County, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Arlington County, Richmond City, Harrisonburg, Lynchburg, Danville, Bristol, and Warrenton. Thirty-four ACLU affiliates across the nation sent similar requests.

The ACLU of Maryland said the state has reported more than 320 license plate readers in use. The data is potentially stored indefinitely after it is gathered from cameras mounted on patrol cars or stationary objects along roads, according to the ACLU.

Catherine Crump with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project said the readers allow police to track motorists' locations and store that information forever.

David Rocah, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, said the organization does not object to the technology's use to instantly compare license plates with information in other databases. However, indefinite storage raises privacy concerns, Rocah said.

While there is growing use of the technology around the nation, little is known about how long the data is stored, the ACLU said.

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