Omnipresence. Complete Surveillance. How would you define “Big Brother”? Would your definition include the collection of information regarding where you live, work, your political and religious beliefs, your social and sexual habits, your visits to family, friends, even doctors? The ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have filed suit against the LAPD and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for doing just that. If you’re already following this blog, that won’t come as a surprise.
After hearing about the increased use of automated license plate readers (ALPRs) by law enforcement to scan and record the license plates of cars all around the country, the ACLU and the EFF asked the LAPD and the LASD for all the data and information it had collected and their policies on retaining and disseminating the information. Not surprisingly, law enforcement declined the request citing the information constitutes “investigative material” and the ACLU and EFF filed suit.
The sheriff’s department has 77 vehicles equipped with plate readers. There are also 47 cameras in fixed locations. One car can scan up to 1,800 license plates per minute, day or night, allowing one car to record more than 14,000 plates during the course of a single shift.
According to the LA Weekly, LAPD and LASD together already have collected more than 160 million “data points” (license plates plus time, date, and exact location) in the greater LA area—that’s more than 20 hits for each of the more than 7 million vehicles registered in L.A. County.
Law enforcement argues that ALPRs are an easy way to find stolen cars — the system checks a scanned plate against a database of stolen or wanted cars and can instantly identify a hit, allowing officers to set up a sting to recover the car and catch the thief. But even when there’s no match in the database and no reason to think a car is stolen or involved in a crime, police keep the data. Law enforcement officers also have access to private databases containing hundreds of millions of plates and their coordinates collected by “repo” men.
The ACLU says: Amassing data on the movements of law-abiding residents is a violation of our freedom and provides speculative benefits.
I say this is just another step down the road in a post-privacy world.