Government Technology

Editorial: When a Car Rats You Out: Your License Plate vs. Your Privacy



California License Plate

June 6, 2014 By Los Angeles Times, McClatchy News Service

In classic detective novels, a plucky private investigator sometimes spots the license number of a suspicious car and wheedles his pals at the DMV to "run the plate" and match it with a name and address. But modern technology has exponentially increased the amount of license plate information available to law enforcement and to a thriving private industry of license plate scanners. A bill that would have set privacy standards for the collection and storage of license plate data has stalled in the state Senate, but the issue isn't going away.

License plates are now automatically photographed by cameras mounted on both vehicles and stationary objects such as poles, and the license numbers are entered into databases along with locations, dates and times. This can help police determine where a particular car was at a particular time, or figure out what cars were in the area when a crime was committed. The L.A. County Sheriff's Department reported having 84 vehicles outfitted with plate readers, and 47 more in fixed locations. An LAPD official said it had 240 car-mounted units and 30 fixed ones. In addition, police agencies often obtain license plate information from private companies such as Vigilant Solutions of Livermore, Calif., which has more than 3,500 law enforcement clients.

It's easy to say that no one has a reasonable expectation of privacy when driving on the streets or parking in a public place. But changing technology — especially the digitizing of license plate photographs and an almost endless storage capacity — has dramatically widened the window through which police can track an individual's comings and goings.

Like GPS technology, which allows police to track the movements of suspects through their cars and telephones, the proliferation of license plate scanners demonstrates the need to adapt traditional notions of privacy to new and invasive technologies. The American Civil Liberties Union has proposed several recommendations to protect privacy: Police must have reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred before examining collected license plate data; citizens should be able to find out if data about their license plate are contained in a database; license plate data should be deleted after a short period to avoid fishing expeditions; and law enforcement shouldn't share such data with third parties that don't adhere to these protections.p>


View Full Story


| More

Comments

Add Your Comment

You are solely responsible for the content of your comments. We reserve the right to remove comments that are considered profane, vulgar, obscene, factually inaccurate, off-topic, or considered a personal attack.

In Our Library

White Papers | Exclusives Reports | Webinar Archives | Best Practices and Case Studies
Better security. Better government.
Powering security at all levels of government with simpler, more connected IT.
Cybersecurity in an "All-IP World" Are You Prepared?
In a recent survey conducted by Public CIO, over 125 respondents shared how they protect their environments from cyber threats and the challenges they see in an all-IP world. Read how your cybersecurity strategies and attitudes compare with your peers.
Maintain Your IT Budget with Consistent Compliance Practices
Between the demands of meeting federal IT compliance mandates, increasing cybersecurity threats, and ever-shrinking budgets, it’s not uncommon for routine maintenance tasks to slip among state and local government IT departments. If it’s been months, or even only days, since you have maintained your systems, your agency may not be prepared for a compliance audit—and that could have severe financial consequences. Regardless of your mission, consistent systems keep your data secure, your age
View All

Featured Papers