Most Americans don’t know how law-enforcement officials throughout the United States use the information they collect from automatic license plate readers.
To change that the Houston-based American Civil Liberties Union of Texas has joined 38 state ACLU affiliates across the country in submitting Freedom of Information Act requests to find out.
“Tracking and recording people’s movements raises serious privacy concerns,” Texas ACLU Executive Director Terri Burke told KDAF-TV in Dallas/Fort Worth.
“Where we go can reveal a great deal about us, including visits to doctor’s offices, political meetings, and friends,” she told KDAF. “Without probable cause, that’s none of the government’s business. Texans deserve to know how this information is being used and we need legal protections to limit the collection, retention and sharing of our travel information.”
The readers are cameras mounted on objects by roads such as telephone poles, or even on patrol cars, according to the ACLU’s website.
Photographs capture each license plate that passes by and stores them in searchable databases. The system also records the Global Positioning System (GPS) location of the vehicle and the time and date of the photo.
The requests ask “local police departments and state agencies” how the data they obtain from the readers help officials “track and record Americans’ movements,” according to the ACLU’s website.
ACLU of Texas officials submitted requests to the:
- Texas Department of Public Safety
- Bexar County Sheriff's Office
- Austin Police Department
- San Antonio Police Department
- Houston Police Department
- Dallas Police Department
- Fort Worth Police Department
- El Paso Police Department
Editor's Note: This story was corrected at noon Aug. 1. An earlier version misidentified Terri Burke's gender and referred to state-level ACLU organizations as chapters rather than affiliates.
Contact Mike Cronin at email@example.com or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.
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Photo of license plate by flickr user .imelda, used via a Creative Commons license.