License plate scanners are being used to track Americans, whether they are stuck in traffic, traveling across the country, or running red lights. The news comes from a study by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which was published on Wednesday.
In the report, the ACLU asserts that police are using automatic cameras to take digital photos of millions of license plates, in order to help solve crimes. However, they are also storing personal information of millions of innocent people.
The report is titled, “You Are Being Tracked: How License Plate Readers Are Being Used to Record Americans’ Movements.” It discusses how the readers collect data, including license plate and location, which is stored for an indefinite period of time.
The ACLU added that the digital surveillance system targets most everyone, rather than just suspicious activity. USA Today reports that the ACLU Staff Attorney Catherine Crump, the report’s lead author, explained:
“[They are] in effect, government location tracking systems recording the movements of many millions of innocent Americans in huge databases.”
Crump also called the license plate scanners “the most widespread location tracking technology you’ve probably ever heard of.” The report by the ACLU comes based on information compiled from Freedom of Information requests in 38 states.
The license plate scanners are normally mounted on the rear fender, the trunk, or the roof of a police car or parking enforcement vehicle. However, others are mounted on road signs, bridges, and toll gates.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League and other law enforcement defended the scanners, notes CBS News. The LAPPL explained the license plate scanners have helped in thousands of cases already. But the ACLU contends that there are “virtually no rules in place” to keep officials from tracking “everybody all the time” using the license plate scanners.
A town in Texas has almost two million plates stored in its database, while Milipitas, California has 4.7 million in its possession. Neither town has a policy in place to regulate the personal information. Crump added in the report:
“Trips to places of worship, political protests, or gun ranges can be powerful indicators of people’s beliefs. Is it really the government’s business to how often you go to the drug store or liquor store, what doctors you visit, and the identities of your friends?”
The report also adds that the data can be used to both spy on protesters and to target communities based on their beliefs. In response, the ACLU wants more regulation in place so that the license plate scanners can only be used in a limited capacity. The union also asks that the public be able to find out if their plate is in a database and that the data not be shared with a third party.
How do you feel knowing police can use license plate scanners to track your movements?