in Houston, Texas
ACLU asks law enforcement, including police in Texas, to explain how it tracks Americans' movements with license plate snapshots
Tuesday, Jul 31, 2012, 04:28PM CST
By Mike Cronin

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:

The ACLU also sent FOIA requests the U.S. departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Transportation to learn how federal government officials use the technology.

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 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.

Wednesday, 08/01/2012 - 01:01AM

The ACLU, at it again. False premises, and exaggerations galore. How exactly can the police know you went to a doctor's office, a political meeting, or a friend's house when these license plate readers are planted at intersections, i.e. stoplights. Not to mention, most only take still images. Last I checked, businesses and citizens don't spend much time in the middle of an intersection.

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