License Plate Readers Track You for Profit

Source: David Kravets, Wired, Threat Level, July 17, 2013

As license plate readers proliferate, law enforcement and private business are pooling surveillance data in light of conflicting guidelines on how long they may retain the data, which often is marketed for profit, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The report, “You Are Being Tracked: How License Plate Readers Are Being Used to Record Americans’ Movements,” (.pdf) paints, for the first time, a broad, Orwellian picture of an often overlooked and growing feature of the surveillance — one funded, in part, by $50 million in federal grants to local governments during the past five years. The autonomous readers — small cameras affixed to police vehicles, light poles, bridges, street signs, buildings, you name it — chronicle a vehicle’s whereabouts to the second. … The report also illuminates a network of private companies — many in the repossession business — that scan 50 million license plates a month in major metropolitan areas and sell the data to law enforcement agencies. “These huge databases of plate information are not subject to any data security or privacy regulations governing license plate reader data,” the report said. “These companies decide who can access license plate data and for what purposes.”…
You Are Being Tracked: How License Plate Readers Are Being Used To Record Americans’ Movements
American Civil Liberties Union, July 2013

…. Databases of license plate reader information create
opportunities for institutional abuse, such as using them to identify protest attendees merely because these individuals have exercised their First Amendment-protected right to free speech. If not properly secured, license plate reader databases open the door to abusive tracking, enabling anyone with access to pry into the lives of his boss, his ex-wife, or his romantic, political, or workplace rivals… This report provides an overview of what we have learned about license plate readers: what their capabilities are, how they are being used, and why they raise privacy issues of critical importance. We close by offering specific recommendations designed to allow law enforcement agencies to use license plate readers for legitimate purposes without subjecting Americans to the permanent recording of their every movement…