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ACLU Seeks Details On Automatic License Plate Readers In Massive Nationwide Request

30 July 2012 Published in Legal Advocacy

American Civil Liberties Union affiliates in 35 states, including Utah, sent requests today to local police departments and state agencies that demand information on how they use automatic license plate readers (ALPR) to track and record Americans’ movements.

In addition, the ACLU’s national office filed federal Freedom of Information Act requests with the departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Transportation to learn how the federal government funds ALPR expansion nationwide and uses the technology itself.

ALPRs are cameras mounted on patrol cars or on stationary objects along roads – such as telephone poles or the underside of bridges –that snap a photograph of every license plate that enters their fields of view. Typically, each photo is time, date, and GPS-stamped, stored, and sent to a database, which provides an alert to a patrol officer whenever a match or “hit” appears.

ALPRs are spreading rapidly around the country, but the public has little information about how they are used to track motorists’ movements, including how long data collected by ALPRs is stored, and whether local police departments pool this information in state, regional or national databases. If ALPRs are being used as a tool for mass routine location tracking and surveillance and to collect and store information not just on people suspected of crimes, but on every single motorist, the American people should know that so that they can voice their concerns.

Here in Utah, the Drug Enforcement Administration requested and then withdrew its request to install ALPRs along certain portions of Interstate 15. That request was met with resistance by lawmakers during a state legislative hearing. During that same hearing, it was revealed that local jurisdictions were already using ALPR technology in Utah. Accordingly, in May, the ACLU of Utah sent GRAMA requests to the Utah Highway Patrol, the Ogden City Police Department, and the Iron County Sheriff's Office seeking information about their use of ALPR technology. These agencies responded that they had little or no responsive documents; thus the ACLU of Utah is directing this GRAMA request to the entity that allegedly stores most ALPR data in Utah. It has since been revealed that at least fifty-two (52) agencies or entities are using the technology in Utah today.

“ALPR use in our state appears to be extensive; Utahns have the right to know if and how certain entities may be tracking and recording our movement,” said John Mejia, Legal Director of the ACLU of Utah. “We hope today’s requests will help Utahns better understand how ALPR technology is used in our state, and where legal protections may be needed to better protect our privacy rights.”

GRAMA Request to Utah Department of Motor Vehicles (PDF) >>

More information about the requests is available at: aclu.org/plates