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ACLU Seeks Details on License Plate Data Collection by Police
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The American Civil Liberties Union has raised privacy concerns over automatic license plate data collections by police agencies across the country and its affiliates have filed freedom of information requests in 38 states and in Washington. The requests have been made to local and state authorities as part of a nationwide effort to find whether police agencies are preserving the data longer than necessary, and whether the data is being misused, or has the chance of being misused.

In a statement issued to the media, ACLU staff attorney Catherine Crump said, “The American people have a right to know whether our police departments are using these tools in a limited and responsible manner, or whether they are keeping records of our movements for months or years for no good reason.”

Last year, the ACLU compiled data on the use of location data from mobile phones by police departments across the country. While widespread and automatic data collection by police agencies can help in solving crimes like motor vehicle theft, the ACLU is concerned that the data may allow the law enforcement to keep tabs on the whereabouts of individuals without the need of a warrant.


Law enforcement agencies across the country use automatic license plate readers that are cameras mounted on patrol vehicles or alongside roads. They automatically take digital images of every vehicle that passes by and send the images to a database along with related data indicating the time and date when the image was captured.

Recently, with the development of new technology, the blurring of lines between law enforcement and individual privacy has increased, especially with the development of tracking technology. Concerns raised by civil rights activists and lawmakers are reaching the corridors of power. In January this year, in U.S. v. Jones, the Supreme Court ruled that police cannot place a global positioning satellite device on a car to track the movements of a suspect without a warrant.

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