California Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Police Use of Automated License Plate Trackers
The Supreme Court of California will soon take a look at the use of automated license plate reader (ALPR) technology by California police as it hears a challenge from two advocacy groups questioning the use and effects of the technology. Many people have never heard of ALPR technology, but more and more police departments use the technology each year to take high-speed pictures of every passing license plate on a given roadway and to match that data against law enforcement records (e.g. outstanding warrants) and use that information as a justification for stopping the vehicle. The surveillance information captured by the ALPR devices is then generally stored for years, if not in perpetuity, by police departments, and it is not exactly clear what law enforcement organizations are doing with the information.
ALPR Used to Collect License Plate Data on Millions of Vehicles Each Week
This specific challenge brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU of Southern California requests that the LAPD and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department – which have been using the ALPR technology for over a decade in 242 LAPD vehicles (and an undisclosed number of LASD vehicles) to scan a total of 3 million license plates every week – turn over a week’s worth of the stored license plate data in order to shed light on how the law enforcement agencies are using the data. A California appellate court had denied the groups’ request in July 2015, finding that the law enforcement agency records were not subject to public disclosure. The Supreme Court of California will take up this argument on appeal.
Law Enforcement Use of ALPR Data Remains Unknown for Now
Because the appellate court denied the request of the petitioners, it is difficult to know the full implications of this massive data collection via constant law enforcement surveillance, and those implications may never be known unless the Supreme Court of California reverses the appellate court ruling. What we do know, however, is that currently the technology is used to conduct surveillance on essentially every vehicle on the road (estimates are that every vehicle in LA County has been photographed by the technology an average of 61 times); that the information is kept on record for up to five years; and that law enforcement agencies have expressed the desire to keep the data in its records indefinitely. The information appears to be used to keep track of those with DUI convictions or outstanding warrants, among other purposes.
The unknown uses of ALPR technology are of concern to those of us who are devoted to protecting the rights of those under investigation or prosecution by law enforcement. As a US citizen, you have rights put in place to protect you from government overreach, including the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures, and we are here to help assert your constitutional rights and all available legal defenses in the event of a criminal prosecution or investigation. We will be following this case as it works it way to the Supreme Court of California with a keen eye towards its implications for the freedoms and rights of drivers within Ventura County and across California.