ACLU: Police using license plates to track whereabouts
A new report says law enforcement officials are using license plate scanners to amass massive and unregulated databases that can be used to track law-abiding citizens as they go about their lives.
The ACLU released the findings Wednesday, and 69 News has learned the scanners are being used locally.
Is the technology keeping crime off the streets, or an invasion of privacy?
The ACLU thinks the latter. The organization analyzed 26,000 pages of documents from police departments around the country, and found there are tens of thousands of license plate scanning cameras now in operation.
They are cameras that can be mounted on patrol cars, overpasses and bridges. The scanners record your license plate number, your location and the time of day.
"There certainly could be some uses for it," said Michael Kaplan. "But without any prior criminal history or any reason for it, I don't see the need for it."
"I do agree it's a good idea because you can get a lot of criminals off the street. I do, however, feel that it is also an invasion of privacy," added Sarah Bacastow.
According to the report, some local agencies are using the cameras. including the PA State Police and the Easton Police Department. Easton Mayor Sal Panto says the city's scanners are not up and running yet.
"It will be used to track people who owe a lot of money on parking tickets and just totally ignore them," Panto said.
The scanners are designed to catch car thieves and other criminals. Law enforcement officials say they provide invaluable tools. Like many jurisdictions, the cameras in Easton were paid for using nearly $16,000 from a federal grant.
"We'll use whatever technology we can to keep the city safe and continue to lock up criminals," explained Panto.
The Pennsylvania State Police says it has 25 license plate scanners across the commonwealth. Troopers can collect up to 7,000 scans in an eight-hour shift. While this information is typically deleted within hours, the ACLU says other jurisdictions, like New Jersey, saves the data for five years.
"It's good that they keep it only for a brief amount of time," said Steven Bost. "But I feel like these liberties erode like every week."
"I still think it's an invasion of privacy," added Bacastow.
The ACLU warns the information can be fed into larger databases, and could be used in an official capacity to spy on protestors or target communities. The organization is calling for regulations to be put in place.
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