LAPD: All License Plates Are Under Investigation

Wednesday, 26 Mar 2014 11:10 AM

By Courtney Coren

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In a response to a records request by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Los Angeles Police Department said that it can't release information about license plate data it has collected because all cars are under investigation.

Under the California Public Records Act, the two groups had asked for the department to disclose what license plates had been captured by its license plate readers in the last two years and what the policy was for how it was used and stored, Reason magazine reported.

The LAPD argued in its response that such automatic license plate reader program information needs to remain secret because all license plates are being investigated.

"All ALPR data is investigatory — regardless of whether a license plate scan results in an immediate 'hit' because, for instance, the vehicle may be stolen, the subject of an 'Amber Alert,' or operated by an individual with an outstanding arrest warrant," the department said in its response to the request in the case before the Superior Court of California in Los Angeles County.

Because this data is under investigation, the LAPD said that it is exempt from being released.

"The ALPR data sought in this case — electronic records consisting of vehicles' license plates, and the date, time and location those license plates were captured by the Department's ALPR cameras — constitute 'records of . . . investigations conducted by . . . any local police agency' which fall squarely under this statutory exemption," it says in the court filing.

The EFF said in a statement that the LAPD's practice of collecting license plate information has violated the Fourth Amendment, which they say "was added to the U.S. Constitution exactly to prevent law enforcement from conducting mass, suspicionless investigations under 'general warrants' that target no specific person or place and never expired."

The group said the cameras "are not triggered by any suspicion of criminal wrongdoing; instead, they automatically and indiscriminately photograph all license plates [and cars] that come into view."

The department admitted that a simple license plate number can provide extensive information about the car's owner through "reverse lookup capabilities such as LexisNexis and Westlaw."

The group argues that because the department is violating the privacy of individuals to such a degree that means the public should be given more information, not less, about how it is being used and stored.

The hearing was scheduled for Friday but has been postponed until April.

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