License Plate Scanner

By Jason Henry, San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Posted: 08/21/15 – 10:11 PM PDT |

Two advocacy groups suing the Los Angeles Police Department and the LA County Sheriff’s Department for access to data from automated license plate readers have won a chance to argue before the California Supreme Court.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation took the two departments to court in 2013 in an attempt to get one week’s worth of data that shows how officers use the technology.

The Redlands Police Department has an automated license plate reader mounted to a patrol car, but isn’t involved in the suit.

The seven-judge panel receives thousands of petitions for review each year, but grants less than five percent, according to the California Supreme Court.

Previously, the Los Angeles Superior Court and the appellate court agreed that the license plate data is investigatory and exempt from public disclosure.

“It really sets a dangerous precedent for any law enforcement records that are gathered using any sort of automated technology,” said Jennifer Lynch, senior staff attorney for EFF. “About 99 percent of the time, license plate records that are collected by law enforcement are never tied to any criminal investigation, or even a vehicle registration issue.”

The LAPD and LASD store the locations of approximately 3 million cars scanned each week for a minimum of two years, allowing officers to identify the past whereabouts of anyone listed in the database contributed to by and shared with 26 other agencies, according to court documents. One camera collects up to 14,000 cars during a single shift, which it then scans against a “hot list” of stolen and wanted vehicles.

An analysis by Ars Technica of 4.6 million license plate collected by the Oakland Police Department over four years found that only 0.16 percent registered as “hits.” The data allowed the site to find a council member’s block using nothing but the database and his license plate, according to the technology news site.

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