Friday, April 18, 2014

Federals using ALPR

IRS, other federal agencies reportedly used license plate-tracking technology

Automatic license plate readers like the one seen here are mounted atop a police cruiser and utilize both an infrared and a color camera. (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department)
The Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies reportedly awarded contracts to a license plate-tracking company to provide access to license-plate recognition databases or technology used to collect plate information. 
Bloomberg News reported that the IRS and other government agencies awarded about $415,000 in contracts to Livermore, Calif.-based Vigilant Solutions before the Department of Homeland Security dropped a plan for similar work after privacy concerns were raised.
In June 2012, the IRS awarded Vigilant a $1,188 contract for "access to nationwide data," according to federal procurement records compiled by the news agency. The contract ended in May 2013, according to the records.  
"The IRS uses a variety of investigative tools similar to other law-enforcement agencies to assist with criminal cases," Eric Smith, an agency spokesman, told Bloomberg, declining to say how the IRS used the records in its investigations. 
The Air Force’s Air Combat Command awarded the company a contract for license plate readers valued at as much as $114,000 in 2011, the report said. A command spokesman said the readers help make base access "easier and more secure."
Bloomberg reported that the U.S. Forest Service awarded Vigilant a contract valued at about $47,019 for a product that scans and captures license plate numbers and compares the data collected to police databases of wanted vehicles.
The Forest Service also awarded the company a contract valued at as much as $7,500 last year for a subscription to its license plate database and other services, according to federal contracting records obtained by Bloomberg. 
The Justice Department’s Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, DHS and U.S. Marshals Service have also awarded contracts to Vigilant for access to its records or tracking tools, according to the report.
License plate readers – essentially cameras that snap rapid-fire pictures of license plates and vehicles as they pass – are in use in a host of locations, by private companies and law enforcement. 
The readers – whether they are mounted to police cars, traffic lights or toll booths – record the date, time and location of the vehicle when the picture was taken.
Law enforcement has been using license plate readers for several years, but privacy advocates have raised concerns that the unchecked collection of such information could allow for the tracking of an average citizen’s every movement. 
In February, Homeland Security officials dropped plans to establish a national license-plate recognition database to collect information from commercial and law enforcement tag readers after concerns were raised over privacy and how the data would be scrutinized.
The contract proposal said Immigration and Customs Enforcement was planning to use the license plate data in pursuit of criminal immigrants and others sought by authorities.
According to the proposal, the government wanted “a close-up of the plate and a zoomed out image of the vehicle" and instant and around-the-clock access to records through a smartphone app. 
In 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the collection of license plate scanner data and warned that millions of records were being collected with little or no safeguards for people’s privacy.  
Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney with the San Francisco-based civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Bloomberg the contracts represented privacy concerns.
"Especially with the IRS, I don’t know why these agencies are getting access to this kind of information," Lynch said. "These systems treat every single person in an area as if they’re under investigation for a crime -- that is not the way our criminal justice system was set up or the way things work in a democratic society." 
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Minnesota modifies liberal open records law to make car location data private | Ars Technica

Minnesota modifies liberal open records law to make car location data private | Ars Technica:


Minnesota modifies liberal open records law to make car location data private

State's Data Practices Act had made license plate reader data public to anyone.

A Minnesota state agency decreed on Monday that a vehicle’s location data as captured by license plate readers, which under existing state law had been completely public, should now be kept private. This comes more than four months after a Minneapolis public committee lobbied to change the state’s policy. The new temporary measure will expire in 2015.
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “The Department of Administration ruled Monday that the following data generated by license plate readers would be private: plate numbers; times, dates, and locations of vehicle scans; and vehicle photos.”
As we reported earlier, Minnesota has a rather liberal open records state law known as the Data Practices Act, which makes all government data public by default. That means that anyone (up until now) could request the entire data set—including license plate data—from any law enforcement agency.
In December 2012, Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak requested to a state committee that the data be immediately re-classified as “non-public.” The new proposal resulted from increased scrutiny of the practice in Minneapolis after a local reporter managed to track the mayor’s movements in August 2012 by filing a request with the police.
Sgt. William Palmer, the department’s public information officer of the Minneapolis Police Department, told Ars in December that the agency had fulfilled nine requests for a 90-day LPR data set, sent by postal mail on a 4GB flash drive. The data covered August 30, 2012 through November 29, 2012. Palmer did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for an updated figure.
One of those requests was granted to Mark Pitts, who runs a local firm called Datalytics LLC. Pittsclaimed that he had determined the location of the city’s stationary license plate readers, which collected more than 2 million records in 90 days.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

License plate reader data » The Data Mine

License plate reader data » The Data Mine:

The Minnesota Commissioner of Administration this week made his ruling on a request from the city of Minneapolis for a temporary reclassification of data from its Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPR). The ruling was only a partial victory for the city of Minneapolis.
The commissioner said that license plate numbers; the date, time and location of vehicles; and pictures taken with the cameras can now be temporarily classified as private, non-public data.
The Minnesota Legislature is currently considering bills that would make ALPR data non-public permanently. More information on those are here.
However, the commissioner also ruled that a whole list of other things the city wanted to cut off from the public must remain open because there is not currently a statute on the books that allows them to be made non-public. He also said the city ” did not provide any argument or documentation to fulfill the requirement that the applicant must clearly establish a compelling need exists for immediate temporary classification, which if not granted could adversely affect the health, safety, or welfare of the public, or the data subject’s well-being or reputation.”
The items that will remain public include:
• Date and time of any report run from ALPR data, the name of the person running the report, and the date span of the report.
• The locations of any ALPR camera, whether mobile or stationary.
• The device number for each ALPR camera.
• Number of times a vehicle was captured by the ALPR system for a period of time.
• Any hit information, including but not limited to, the following categories: stolen vehicle, Stolen license plate, wanted person, Canadian Police Information Center data, protection order, missing person, violent gang and terrorist organization, supervised release, convicted sexual offender registry, immigration violator files, Keep Our Police Safe (“KOPS”), Minnesota warrants, suspended driver’s license, revoked driver’s license, canceled driver’s license, disqualified driver’s license, Be On The Lookout (BOLO), Hotsheet (stolen vehicles in Minneapolis), and scofflaw (5 or more outstanding parking tickets).
Posted By Mary Jo Webster

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Judges asked to rule on warrantless GPS tracking - abc27 WHTM

Judges asked to rule on warrantless GPS tracking - abc27 WHTM:

Posted: Mar 19, 2013 9:53 AM CDTUpdated: Mar 19, 2013 12:49 PM CDT
Associated Press
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A federal appeals court is being asked to decide if the government must obtain a warrant before placing a GPS tracker on a suspect's car.
The case before the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia involves three brothers suspected of robbing pharmacies. A GPS device led to their arrests in 2010.
Lawyers representing the trio told a three-judge panel Tuesday that warrantless tracking violates the Constitutional guarantee against unreasonable searches.
But a federal prosecutor contends that authorities followed relevant legal precedents in attaching the tracker without a warrant. He says authorities had probable cause to suspect illegal activity.
A lower court previously ruled in favor of the brothers. The Justice Department appealed based on a recent Supreme Court ruling. It's unclear when the appeals court will rule.

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Obama administration: Warrantless GPS tracking needed to fight terrorism | The Raw Story

Obama administration: Warrantless GPS tracking needed to fight terrorism | The Raw Story:

The Obama administration will argue before a federal appeals court on Tuesday that law enforcement must regain the ability to use GPS tracking devices without a warrant, which it says is necessary to continue the fight against terrorism.
The use of GPS devices in warrantless snooping has been illegal since January 2012, when the Supreme Court ruled that vehicles are private property protected by the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. If the Obama administration is successful on its appeal however, GPS devices will be fair game for police nationwide.
The administration’s brief (PDF) in U.S. v. Katzin, filed with the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, goes even further than just arguing for law enforcement’s access to the technology: the administration says vehicle tracking is necessary to keep the nation safe from terrorist attacks as well.
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, the president’s attorneys contend the original arguments are invalid because the so-called “automobile exception” to search warrants also applies to data showing where that vehicle is and has been, not just what may be inside.
The brief contends that passing on warrantless GPS tracking when it is a potential investigative tool has a “minimal” effect on safeguarding privacy, but a “great expense” to law enforcement and public safety. “Requiring a warrant and probably cause before officers may attach a GPS device to a vehicle, which is inherently mobile and may no longer be at the location observed when the warrant is obtained, would seriously impede the government’s ability to investigate drug trafficking, terrorism, and other crimes.”
The brief adds that the legal standard for “slap-on” GPS tracking devices should not be “probable cause” as the Constitution sets out for searches of private property, but “reasonable suspicion,” a lesser standard that allows an officer to begin a search for probable cause.
“Just because a technology wasn’t around when the Constitution was written doesn’t mean that it’s not covered,” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Catherine Crump said in an advisory. “The fundamental privacy rights established by the Fourth Amendment require that police justify their actions and show probable cause to a judge before they can conduct invasive surveillance like constant location tracking. The ‘automobile exception’ was created so police could find contraband hidden in cars, not so they could monitor a person’s movements nonstop for days or even months on end.”

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