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California Police Have Been Illegally Sharing License Plate Reader Data

California Police Have Been Illegally Sharing License Plate Reader Data

Some of California’s largest police departments have been accumulating tens of millions of photos of drivers’ license plates and sharing them with entities across the nation—with out having mandatory safety insurance policies in place, in violation of state legislation, based on a newly launched state audit.

The audit, revealed Thursday, discovered that 230 police and sheriff’s departments within the state at present use automated license plate readers (ALPRs), which will be mounted cameras or units mounted on patrol vehicles. Police have touted the expertise as mandatory for imposing parking and fundamental municipal legal guidelines, and as an important software in little one abduction instances and different high-profile investigations.

But the California State Auditor’s workplace discovered that a lot of the knowledge collected is on harmless folks and their automotive actions.

The Los Angeles Police Department, for instance, has collected greater than 320 million photos during the last a number of years. Only 400,000 of these generated quick matches to vehicles of curiosity, however the remaining 99.9 % of the pictures, which can be utilized to trace peoples’ motion throughout town, keep saved in a division database for greater than 5 years, based on the audit.

The LAPD then provides different delicate data to that database, typically tagging the pictures with felony information, names, addresses, and dates of beginning. Meanwhile, the division has not established any written coverage governing correct use of its ALPR knowledge, in violation of a 2016 state legislation.

Citing a case in Georgia by which a police officer took a bribe to search for a girl’s license plate to find out if she was an undercover officer, the auditors additionally decided that most of the departments it examined weren’t making certain that solely approved personnel had entry to ALPR knowledge, or auditing the database logs to make it possible for approved personnel had been utilizing the methods correctly.

“This is very troubling. This technology reportedly exists to help with parking enforcement and other basic law enforcement responsibilities, and yet we’re seeing a huge amount of data collected, retained, and shared unnecessarily,” state Sen. Scott Wiener, who requested the audit, advised Motherboard.

Wiener mentioned he plans to introduce follow-up laws to make sure legislation enforcement businesses are following the legal guidelines.

In a short response revealed together with the audit, the LAPD mentioned it plans to finalize an ALPR plan by April.

“The LAPD will perform an assessment of the systems’ data security features and retention periods for ALPR images to evaluate the need for adjustment, prior to publishing of the ALPR policy,” the division wrote. “Furthermore, the policy will list the entities the department shares ALPR images with and the process for handling image-sharing requests.”

During testimony earlier than the state legislature in August, although, the LAPD lieutenant who oversees the division’s license plate reader program said, “We continue to ensure that we abide by both the laws that are in place,” straight contradicting what the audit would finally discover.

Among essentially the most regarding revelations within the audit, privateness advocates mentioned, was the obvious carelessness with which police departments shared the data of their ALPR databases.

In addition to the LAPD, the auditors examined three different businesses intimately: the Fresno Police Department, Marin County Sheriff’s Office, and Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office. The Sacramento sheriff’s workplace shared its knowledge with 1,119 entities, Fresno with 982, and Marin with 554 across the nation. LAPD shared knowledge with 58 departments in California.

The auditors discovered Sacramento, Fresno, and Marin had apparently taken minimal steps to find out why the entities requesting entry to the license plate knowledge wanted it, or even when they had been public businesses in any respect, which is a requirement underneath the state legislation.

Some of the entities on the share lists had been recognized solely by initials, based on the audit. And the three California departments had been all sharing knowledge with an entity listed because the Missouri Police Chiefs Association, which is a personal advocacy group, not a legislation enforcement company. Vigilant Solutions, the corporate that supplied ALPR expertise to these departments later advised auditors that the Missouri Police Chiefs Association was truly the Missouri State Highway Patrol, however the California departments had apparently not famous the distinction.

Sacramento, Fresno, and Marin had been additionally sharing knowledge with the Honolulu Police Department, which is separated from California by roughly 2,500 miles of ocean, elevating questions on why Honolulu police have to know the each motion of California drivers.

“They’re sharing this data indiscriminately across the country without even thinking or doing the justification of why they’re sharing with these agencies,” Dave Maass, a senior investigative researcher for the Electronic Frontier Foundation who has been monitoring police use of ALPR expertise, advised Motherboard.

In its response to the audit, the Marin County Sheriff’s Office defendended its sharing insurance policies, together with with Honolulu, saying they had been “done properly and with consideration as to the multiple matters which have in the past involved both agencies.”

Maass mentioned the California audit ought to function a bigger warning. ALPR expertise is widespread not solely amongst police departments, however amongst non-public entities who use instruments constructed by firms like Vigilant.

“This is the exact same thing going on across the United States,” Maass mentioned. “Every other state should take a look at this audit and consider whether they should do an audit.”

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