New police technology records & saves lincense plate information

Thursday, July 18, 2013 - 12:50pm

Police technology draws lawsuits from privacy groups over stored information.

A California man faces no criminal charges and he has been accused of no crimes.

That's why he says he was shocked by the amount of information the police department had about him, even a photograph of him with his daughters.

With cameras mounted on a police cruiser ,

"What we're looking at is a license plate ... directly across the street, 1319161."

Cops in San Leandro, California can capture and record license plates as they drive down any street an efficient method to catch car thieves or pull over vehicles that show up in a criminal database.

"With technology and with smart, good policing, it allows us to keep our public safe."

But when a local activist petitioned the police department and got a hold of the records on his car, he says he was stunned by what he saw.

"Did you think it was a case of big brother's gone too far."

"I do think big brother has gone too far, because I have not been charged with, I'm not suspect of committing any crime."

Mike Latz Lacabe found what he says is an egregious violation of privacy: 112 instances over two years, where police just happened to get images of his car and more.

"So, this picture shows my car parked in the driveway of my house and very clearly shows my daughters and myself getting out of the car."

The license-plate scanner is always on.

Any time a police officer drives the car, it's recording storing license plates on its servers.

In just a few minutes, we watch the system record hundreds of plates.

Police say the data can later be accessed to solve crimes: everything from following leads on amber alerts to collecting upaid tickets.

But Katz Lacabe says a line has clearly been crossed.

"Innocent people should not have their records being stored by law enforcement."

Law enforcement, though, has whole-heartedly embraced this technology.

More than a third of large police agencies are using automated plate readers, according to a 2010 study by George Mason University.

"There are 3 cameras on the roof. One on the left, one on the right, and one on the side. They capture plates instantaneously. Those plates are then cross-checked against suspect vehicles, so if a car comes across as being stolen. The officer will be instantly alerted."

It's not that data-collection is bad, critics say, but it's that departments keep the information on file, sometimes for months, sometimes for years.

Every department has it's own policy.

San Leandro, for instance, keeps its data for a year.

"Once they have the location of your plate and where you were on that date and time that they scanned your plate, they can see where you work, who you associate with, where you pray, where you're going to the doctor, and they can learn quite a lot about you."

"In order to have a discussion about something like this, people have to know what's happening."

Police say the technology has only been official against crime suspects, but in this new era of digital rights and privacy, some say there needs to be more transparency and limits to what information can be gathered and stored on citizens doing nothing more than driving their cars.

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