Drive in Los Angeles? You could be under investigation — but the cops aren’t saying

By Travis Gettys
Friday, March 21, 2014 12:50 EDT
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Police in Los Angeles have refused to share the data they collect from automatic license plate readers, arguing that it’s all related to ongoing investigations.

The Electronic Frontiers Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union had requested a week’s worth of the data under the state’s Public Records Act.

But attorneys for the L.A. Police Department and L.A. County Sheriff’s Department filed briefs arguing that “all [license plate] data is investigatory” – even if it may never be associated with a specific crime.

“This argument is completely counter to our criminal justice system, in which we assume law enforcement will not conduct an investigation unless there are some indicia of criminal activity,” said Jennifer Lynch, staff attorney for EFF.

Lynch argued that the Fourth Amendment protected against such mass investigations conducted without suspicion under “general warrants” that target no specific person or place and never expire.

Attorneys for the police and sheriff’s departments also argued that releasing the data would violate the privacy of anyone whose license plate and other information was included in the period covered by the request.

ALPR systems mounted on police cruisers, road signs, and bridges automatically and indiscriminately photograph all vehicles and license plates that pass, then extract the license plate number, data, time, and location.

The information captured by these high-speed cameras, which can shoot thousands of photographs each minute, is then entered into a computer system to be analyzed or even shared with other law enforcement agencies.

“Taken to an extreme, the agencies’ arguments would allow law enforcement to conduct around-the-clock surveillance on every aspect of our lives and store those records indefinitely on the off-chance they may aid in solving a crime at some previously undetermined date in the future,” Lynch argued. “If the court accepts their arguments, the agencies would then be able to hide all this data from the public.”

The EFF filed a brief Friday arguing accumulating data just because it might someday be useful to law enforcement officers stretches the meaning of “investigation” beyond meaning.

[Image: LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 18, 2013: View of Hollywood Boulevard by night vis Shutterstock]

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