Jon Campbell of the L.A. Weekly has a chilling report in tomorrow’s edition on license plate readers used by California law enforcement and the “BOSS” database that is being developed. Here’s a snippet:
L.A. Weekly has learned that more than two dozen law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles County are using hundreds of these “automatic license plate recognition” devices (LPRs) — units about the size of a paperback book, usually mounted atop police cruisers — to devour data on every car that catches their electronic eye.
The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department are two of the biggest gatherers of automatic license plate recognition information. Local police agencies have logged more than 160 million data points — a massive database of the movements of millions of drivers in Southern California.
Each data point represents a car and its exact whereabouts at a given time. Police have already conducted, on average, some 22 scans for every one of the 7,014,131 vehicles registered in L.A. County. Because it’s random, some cars are scanned numerous times, others never.
The use of the system has expanded significantly since its first introduction in 2005:
In 2005, when LPR made its debut here, police agencies generally threw out all of the unneeded information that wasn’t tied to a stolen or otherwise wanted vehicle.
Now there’s a lot of cheap digital storage space, so LAPD holds all of its data for five years, Long Beach for two, the Sheriff’s Department for two.
But Sgt. John Gaw, with the Sheriff’s Department, says, “I’d keep it indefinitely if I could.”
ACLU’s Bibring calls these long retention times “exceedingly troubling,” and state Sen. Joe Simitian has introduced legislation setting a 60-day retention limit, which copies the California Highway Patrol.
Police officials are quick to note that the information being gathered isn’t private. License plates are owned by the DMV and routinely recorded by police — that’s one of the main reasons they exist.
“It’s not Big Brother,” Gaw says. “It’s doing what a deputy normally does in his routine duties.”
So this is what it comes down to if there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy in public. The police can record and store millions of data points about you and figure out your location for any point in time for the last few years?
Legal, perhaps, but very very creepy.
Read more on the L.A. Weekly.
Carousel image from GizMag for illustration purposes only.