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Common Dreams

'You Are Being Tracked': License Plate Readers Capture Millions of Innocent Americans' Data

Private companies utilized to capture location info, with little to no oversight

Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Tens of millions of innocent Americans are being tracked by the police through vast license plate scanning systems, according to new documents obtained by the ACLU.

Location records of millions of civilians are logged and updated in roughly 300 police departments nationwide through "rapidly expanding" automatic license plate reader technologies, dispersed throughout cities and communities the group says.

"The spread of these scanners is creating what are, in effect, government location tracking systems recording the movements of many millions of innocent Americans in huge databases," said ACLU Staff Attorney Catherine Crump, the report's lead author.

The report, You Are Being Tracked, which was released by the ACLU on Wednesday—and pulls from 26,000 pages of documents which were obtained through freedom of information requests to 300 police departments and other agencies nationwide—also details how the police utilize private tracking companies, which use the same methods and turn data over to police "with little or no oversight or privacy protections."

One of these private companies, Vigilant Solutions, holds over 800 million license plate location records and is used by over 2,200 law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The report comes on the heels of the growing debate over the National Security Agency and the vast surveillance practices of the U.S. government, Crump added.

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It raises the same question as the NSA controversy: do we want to live in a world where the government makes a record of everything we do – because that's what's being created by the growth of databases linked to license plate readers.

"These documents show a dire need for rules to make sure that this technology isn't used for unbridled government surveillance," the ACLU warned Wednesday.

"Few [states] have meaningful rules in place to protect drivers' privacy rights," the group said, including limitations as to how long such data can be stored.

As the documents show, this can result in the police keeping records on innocent people's location information indefinitely, "regardless of whether there is any suspicion of a crime."

"License plate readers are the most pervasive method of location tracking that nobody has heard of," said Crump. "They collect data on millions of Americans, the overwhelming number of whom are entirely innocent of any wrongdoing."

Click through the ACLU's interactive slideshow below to see how your location information is being tracked:


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