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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Friday, March 8, 2013



A Texas Bill Would Bar Warrantless Collection of Cell Phone Location Data

The Texas Capitol, by IPBrian/Flickr
The Supreme Court may have approved the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens for just about forever, but the good old state of Texas isn't going to take that lying down. Texas lawmakers don't believe that cell phone location data is fair game for law enforcement, and a couple identical bills filed in Texas's House and Senate would provide sweeping protections for private cell users.
Currently, the DoJ and Supreme Court have said that cell users have no reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to location data and other data gleaned from cell transmissions. So while warrantless GPS tracking is out of bounds, cell location data can provide a fairly comparable analog, and additionally allows lawmakers to track when and where calls were made, and even gain access to text messages.
The new bill, which was authored by a group called the Texas Electronic Privacy Coalition, which includes the Texas branches of the ACLU and EFF. The bill is designed to require law enforcement to get a standard warrant before gleaning any cell data. That means that law enforcement can only breach cell privacy "if there is probable cause to believe the records disclosing location information will provide evidence in a criminal investigation."
“Surveillance has become so easy, thanks to the data collected and stored by your cell phone company, that it’s now ripe for abuse,” ACLU of Texas's Matt Simpson said in a release. “In a free society, there have to be limits on the government’s ability to monitor people’s activities and associations – that’s just a basic premise of liberty. This bill simply requires a judge to take a look, and make sure a request for location data is reasonably likely to turn up evidence of crime in an investigation.”
One key aspect of the bill, as Cyrus Farivar at Ars noted, is that it also would require carriers to disclose when they release cell data to law enforcement. That's an important privacy provision, especially when the current laws have allowed for rampant data collection. Remember, a Congressional investigation found that in 2011 alone, carriers responded to 1.3 million subscriber information requests from law enforcement, which generally wouldn't require warrants. Carriers have actually begun complaining about the rising costs of complying with such requests, which would suggest that they've certainly not slowed in frequency.
In step with the Texas bill, a similar electronic privacy bill has been introduced in Congress by Rep. Zoe Lundgren of California. That bill isn't solely concerned with cell phones, and includes email and other forms of electronic communication under its warrant requirements. Of course, a similar bill from Lundgren failed last year amidst opposition from law enforcement officials.
Still, it's heartening to see lawmakers finally recognize that the Fourth Amendment has largely been gutted and ignored as our communication increasingly becomes wireless and in the cloud. It's taken a long time for legislators to grasp the fact that, even if your data is stored somewhere outside your home or is being beamed through the air, it's still yours, and you do have a reasonable expecation of privacy. It's important to remember that these bills are still only proposed, but the fact that they exist is a step in the right direction.



Rich California town considers license plate readers for entire city limits

With a nearly 50 percent rise in burglaries, Piedmont police are concerned.

The City of Piedmont appears to be well on its way to buying license plate readers to be used by the city's police department.
PIEDMONT, CALIFORNIA—In the early 20th century, a group of wealthy Oaklanders separated from their city to found Piedmont. Large, stately homes and a handful of businesses defined the city. Today, the town-on-the-hill has only 11,000 residents.
Piedmont is entirely surrounded by Oakland, and is one of the few towns in America to be entirely contained within another city. Despite the recent efforts of a small group to “Liberate Piedmont” and return it to Oakland, it’s likely going to stay this way.
But if the local police chief has her way, Piedmont will become even more unique. The chief is pushing for Piedmont to become one of the few cities in America to install automatic license plate readers (LPR) at its city borders—in this case, they would be mounted above each of the 30 roads leading into town. If successful, Piedmont would be the second wealthy Bay Area community with such a system. (Tiburon, in nearby Marin County, approved LPRs more than three years ago for the only two roads leading into and out of town. Sugar Land, Texas, approved similar measures for its municipal borders in November 2012.)
“I think there's a good chance we will do it to some level,” Rikki Goede, the police chief, told Ars on Monday. “It's an investigative tool being used as a force-multiplier. That's what tech is all about, helping us be more efficient and at the end of the day, keeping our technologies safe. If technology can help with that, we should be for that.”
As in Tiburon, Piedmont’s proposed system could create a de facto electronic border fence around the city. It would scan the license plate of every car going into or out of town and retain that information for a year. However, the LPR data would also be transferred “nearly instantaneously” to the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), which feeds law enforcement intelligence to the federal government.
The Piedmont Police Department is currently awaiting a proposal from PIPS, a leading LPR vendor, and hopes to present that plan to the city government in the coming months. The PPD already has one mobile LPR, positioned on a patrol car.
As we reported last year, Federal Signal Corporation (FSC), which sells LPRs under its PIPS brand name, says it has sold 20,000 mobile systems across North America and another 15,000 fixed devices across the United States and the United Kingdom.
"We work with the 25 largest cities in the United States, over 100 cities in the US and over 200 in North America, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and in Mexico," said Tim O'Leary, a company vice president, in an interview with Ars in 2012. "We think the market is growing at eight to 10 percent, adjusted growth rate, annually."
In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2012, FSC said its sales of LPRs were up by $2.1 million in 2010 alone.
Piedmont has budgeted $5.4 million for its police force this fiscal year (PDF). Assuming 60 cameras for 30 roads at an average of $14,000 per camera, that would work out to $840,000 in purchasing costs alone.

Burglaries on the rise

As we reported last year, the scanners can read 60 license plates per second, then match observed plates against a "hot list" of wanted vehicles, stolen cars, or criminal suspects. LPRs have increasingly become a mainstay of law enforcement nationwide. Many law enforcement agencies tout them as a highly effective "force multiplier" for catching bad guys, most notably burglars, car thieves, child molesters, kidnappers, terrorists, and—potentially—undocumented immigrants.
Today, tens of thousands of LPRs are being used by law enforcement agencies all over the country—practically every week, local media around the country report on some LPR expansion. But the system's unchecked and largely unmonitored use raises significant privacy concerns. License plates, dates, times, and locations of all cars seen are kept in law enforcement databases for months or even years at a time. In the worst case, the New York State Police keeps all of its LPR data indefinitely. No universal standard governs how long data can or should be retained.
So what worries Piedmont enough to call for LPRs? Burglaries.
Chief Goede said the number of burglaries jumped from 90 in 2011 up to 135 in 2012. While that may be peanuts compared to what she experienced in her last job as assistant police chief of the San Jose Police Department (and its population of nearly 1 million), it’s still important for a community like Piedmont.
“You have to keep in mind, what Tiburon can do and Piedmont can do—San Jose can't do [because of its size and financial constraints.]” Still, she didn’t think that LPRs would instantly solve Piedmont’s problems. She sees them as part of the “three prongs” of good policing.
“You've got to have a good well-staffed police department that does problem solving,” she said. “You’ve got to have community collaboration, and a community that's invested in the community and calls the police and reports suspicious activity. The third is technology. Those three are what creates a safe community. One's not going to get rid of the other, they have to be equally strong.”

Civil liberties lurk in the background

Not surprisingly, the expanded use of LPRs has drawn the ire of privacy watchdogs. In late July 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union and its affiliates sent requests to local police departments and state agencies across 38 states to request information on how LPRs are used.
Part of the fear is that a police officer could potentially have a substantial record of movement for specific cars moving in and out of the city.
Goede said that for now, her department had not consulted with any civil liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union or the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She acknowledged that it was a “challenge” to balance the two concerns.
“ALPR cameras can be used with minimal impact on individual liberties, but they can also be used to record each time a visitor or resident enters or exits a city, retain that information indefinitely, allow that information to be used without restrictions or oversight, and even share that information with other agencies in order to build a robust profile of an individual’s whereabouts, activities, and associations,” said Chris Conley, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union.
“We would be happy to talk with the Piedmont police department to discuss the costs as well as the benefits of an ALPR system, and to encourage the department to establish policies and safeguards that recognize the potential impact on individual privacy of ALPR prior to purchasing or using cameras.”
Still, Chief Goede feels confident that her department would impose adequate privacy restrictions to keep the LPR database from being abused. She said this includes limiting access to such data for criminal investigations only.
"[But] communities are not going to just want technology to make them safer, they're going to demand that we use technology to make them safer,” she added.
Expand full story

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    Mistrial in landmark GPS tracking case

    Mistrial in landmark GPS tracking case

    March 4, 2013 | 8:00 pm

    Scott McCabe

    Staff Writer - Crime
    The Washington Examiner

    Photo -

    A federal judge in D.C. declared a mistrial Monday against a D.C. nightclub owner at the center of a Supreme Court ruling that curbed police use of a warrantless GPS tracking.
    The mistrial was declared when jurors could not reach a verdict for Antoine Jones after deliberating for more than seven days in the drug conspiracy case.
    Jones was convicted in 2008 and sentenced to life behind bars. His case made its way to the Supreme Court after the federal appeals court in D.C. overturned his conviction, saying the GPS tracking violated Jones' reasonable expectations of privacy.
    D.C. police had placed a GPS device on Jones' Jeep for a month in 2005 without a warrant.
    The U.S. Attorney's Office expects to retry the case, a spokesman said.

    Thursday, March 7, 2013

    Texas proposes one of nation’s “most sweeping” mobile privacy laws | Ars Technica

    Texas proposes one of nation’s “most sweeping” mobile privacy laws | Ars Technica:

    Texas proposes one of nation’s “most sweeping” mobile privacy laws

    If signed into law, cops would finally need a warrant to get location data.

    If the bill passes, Austin, Texas could lead the nation in mobile privacy protection.

    Privacy experts say that a pair of new mobile privacy bills recently introduced in Texas are among the “most sweeping” ever seen. And they say the proposed legislation offers better protection than a related privacy billintroduced this week in Congress.
    If passed, the new bills would establish a well-defined, probable-cause-driven warrant requirement for all location information. That's not just data from GPS, but potentially pen register, tap and trace, and tower location data as well. Such data would be disclosed to law enforcement "if there is probable cause to believe the records disclosing location information will provide evidence in a criminal investigation."
    Further, the bills would require an annual transparency report from mobile carriers to the public and to the state government.
    Under current federal case law and statute, law enforcement generally has broad warrantless powers to not only track suspects in real-time based on their phone data, but also to access records of where and when calls were made or text messages were sent or received—and all of this is provided by the carriers.
    “Location information can reveal a great deal about an individual’s professional and personal life—her friends and associates, her participation in political or religious activities, her regular visits to a health clinic or support group, and more,” said Chris Conley, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California.
    “That’s why we think it is essential that the government get a search warrant, approved by a judge, before demanding this kind of information from cell phone providers. The Texas bill would require just that. In addition, the Texas bill would also require companies to report how often they receive such demands from law enforcement and how much information they disclose. This kind of transparency is essential to carry on an informed dialog about appropriate law enforcement powers in the modern world.”

    Broad powers

    The unanimous 2012 Supreme Court decision on United States v. Jones ruled that law enforcement did not have the authority to track a suspect using a GPS tracking device put on a car without a warrant. But cops frequently use similar tactics with lower legal standards, including using the suspect’s own phone against her. Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Department of Justice to release GPS tracking-related memos.
    The bills, which were introduced in the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate last month, are endorsed by the Texas Electronic Privacy Coalition. That's an umbrella group that includes the Electronic Frontier Foundation-AustinGrits for BreakfastTexans for Accountable Government, and the ACLU of Texas. They will need to pass both houses and be signed by the state governor, Rick Perry, before becoming law.
    Ars reached out to the four major mobile carriers in the United States—AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile—for their comment on this new bill. None of them responded on Wednesday except for Verizon, whose spokesperson, Debi Lewis, said the company had no comment.

    One bill at a time

    Not surprisingly, other civil libertarian and digital rights groups are looking with a hopeful eye that such legislation can influence other states and perhaps the federal government. According to the ACLU, 11 states have already introduced similar bills this year.
    “What the states do on this issue will certainly influence what Congress does,” said Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “It's clear to me that because the location of a cell phone is mobile and because phones cross state lines routinely it's probably that if the states start acting then Congress would need to enact a uniform rule.”
    Various states have tried to implement versions of such privacy protections in the past. California’s was famously vetoed by the governor in September 2012. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) introduced legislation in 2011 that would have also imposed similar restrictions, but none as strong as what’s been proposed in Texas.
    “Although Senator Franken’s Location Privacy Protection Act of 2011 [PDF] and these Texas bills all seek to protect cell phone user’s location information, the Texas bills differ from Franken’s bill in scope, function, and specific objective,” Woodrow Hartzog, an affiliate scholar at Stanford Law School, told Ars. “Senator Franken’s bill is narrowly tailored to ensure that companies obtain consent before collecting or sharing location data from a consumer’s mobile device. The Texas bills are broadly aimed at the government’s collection of location information.”
    He added that these bills were among the “most sweeping mobile location protection bills I've seen,” and he wondered if and to what degree they will become law.

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    FBI 'secretly spying' on Google users, company reveals | Fox News

    FBI 'secretly spying' on Google users, company reveals | Fox News:

    The FBI used National Security Letters -- a form of surveillance that privacy watchdogs call “frightening and invasive” -- to surreptitiously seek information on Google users, the web giant has just revealed.

    Google’s disclosure is “an unprecedented win for transparency,” privacy experts said Wednesday. But it’s just one small step forward.

    “Serious concerns and questions remain about the use of NSLs,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Dan Auerbach and Eva Galperin wrote. For one thing, the agency issued 16,511 National Security Letters in 2011, the last year for which data was available. But Google was gagged from saying just how many letters it received -- leaving key questions unanswered.

    “The terrorists apparently would win if Google told you the exact number of times the Federal Bureau of Investigation invoked a secret process to extract data about the media giant’s customers,” Wired’s David Kravets wrote. He described the FBI's use of NSLs as a way of "secretly spying" on Google's customers.

    National Security Letters are a means for the FBI to obtain information on people from telecommunications companies, authorized by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and expanded under the Patriot Act. It lets the agency seek information on a subscriber to a wire or electronic communications service, although not things like the content of their emails or search queries, Google said.

    And thanks to secrecy constraints built into NSLs, companies that receive them usually aren’t even allowed to acknowledge the request for information. Citing such extreme secrecy, privacy experts have decried the use of these letters in the past.

    “Of all the dangerous government surveillance powers that were expanded by the USA PATRIOT Act, the National Security Letter (NSL) power … is one of the most frightening and invasive,” the EFF wrote. “These letters … allow the FBI to secretly demand data about ordinary American citizens' private communications and Internet activity without any meaningful oversight or prior judicial review.”

    Thanks to negotiations with the government, Google finally opened the smallest chink in the armor, allowing the search giant to reveal the fact that it had received these requests for data, as well as some general information about them.
    “Visit our page on user data requests in the U.S. and you’ll see, in broad strokes, how many NSLs for user data Google receives, as well as the number of accounts in question,” Richard Salgado, Google’s legal director of law enforcement and information security, wrote in a Tuesday blog post.

    A new table posted to Google’s Transparency Report site outlines the details; it tabulates how many requests for information the company has received over each of the past four years: some undisclosed number between 0 and 999. With those NSLs, the FBI sought information on somewhere between 1,000 and 1,999 users/accounts.

    “People don’t always use our services for good, and it’s important that law enforcement be able to investigate illegal activity,” Salgado wrote.

    No other technology company presently disclose such basic information about government requests, experts noted.

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    Sunday, March 3, 2013

    DHS built domestic surveillance tech into Predator drones | Politics and Law - CNET News

    DHS built domestic surveillance tech into Predator drones | Politics and Law - CNET News:

    Cecil- maybe ALPR are minor concern compared to this.

    DHS built domestic surveillance tech into Predator drones Homeland Security's specifications say drones must be able to detect whether a civilian is armed. Also specified: "signals interception" and "direction finding" for electronic surveillance.

    Homeland Security required that this Predator drone, built by General Atomics, be capable of
    detecting whether a standing human at night is "armed or not."

    (Credit: U.S. Department of Homeland Security )

    The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has customized its Predator drones,originally built for overseas military operations, to carry out at-home surveillance tasks that have civil libertarians worried: identifying civilians carrying guns and tracking their cell phones, government documents show.

    The documents provide more details about the surveillance capabilities of the department's unmanned redator B drones [] , which are primarily used to patrol the United States' northern and southern borders but have been pressed into service on behalf of a growing number of law enforcement agencies including the FBI, the Secret Service, the Texas Rangers, and local police.

    Homeland Security's specifications for its drones, built by San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems [] , say they "shall be capable of identifying a standing human being at night as likely armed or not," meaning carrying a shotgun or rifle. They also specify "signals interception" technology that can capture communications in the frequency ranges used by mobile phones, and "direction finding" technology that can identify the locations of mobile devices or two-way radios.

    The Electronic Privacy Information Center obtained a partially redacted copy [] of Homeland Security's requirements for its drone fleet through the Freedom of Information Act and published it this week. CNET unearthed an unredacted copy] of the requirements that provides additional information about the aircraft's surveillance capabilities.

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    Arkansas police photograph license plates, store data | Fox News

    Arkansas police photograph license plates, store data | Fox News:

    Published March 03, 2013 Associated Press

    LITTLE ROCK, ARK. – Little Rock may not be a likely terrorism target or a gang crime hotspot, but the Arkansas capital has decided to follow the example of high-security cities by expanding electronic surveillance of its streets.

    A police car with a device that photographs license plates moves through the city and scans the traffic on the streets, relaying the data it collects to a computer for sifting. Police say the surveillance helps identify stolen cars and drivers with outstanding arrest warrants.

    It also allows authorities to monitor where average citizens might be at any particular time. That bothers some residents, as well as groups that oppose public intrusions into individual privacy. The groups are becoming more alarmed about license plate tracking as a growing number of police departments acquire the technology.

    Though authorities in Washington, D.C., London and Chicago conduct extensive electronic surveillance of public areas to detect security threats or deter gang crime, "Today, increasingly, even towns without stoplights have license plate readers," said Catherine Crump, a New York-based staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

    In Little Rock, even some city officials wonder about keeping data on drivers' movements.  "It bothered me particularly if someone wasn't guilty of a crime or didn't have any active warrants or hadn't committed a crime," city director Ken Richardson said. However, Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas said the law enforcement benefits outweigh any concerns about possible abuse of the information, which, as a public record, is legally available for anyone to see. He said the department may get more of the devices.

    "Should that potential of misuse therefore eliminate the capacity of law enforcement to collect data which has a legitimate purpose for the safety of our officers or the appropriateness of enforcement actions? I don't think so," he said. Little Rock police bought the tracker last year for about $14,000, as interest in the technology began spreading in law enforcement circles. The purchase didn't require city council approval and didn't attract much attention in town. "There was no public notice or anything," police spokeswoman Sgt. Cassandra Davis said.

    Richardson said he didn't hear about the device until after it had been collecting data for months. He said he said he hasn't heard many complaints.

    "It's hard for you to have a problem with something if you don't know it's going on," he said. Many Little Rock residents apparently still haven't heard about the surveillance. Angel Weston, 45, said she's glad to hear that police are looking for stolen cars and people with warrants but wondered about keeping logs of citizens' movements.

    "I don't feel like they should keep the data for six or 12 months," Weston said.Lawmakers in several states, including Minnesota and Utah, have suggested setting a time limit for their departments, but Little Rock has no policy yet. The department now has a growing archive of license plate photos, along with time stamps and the locations, showing where motorists were at certain times.

    Privacy advocates worry about the potential uses for such outside law enforcement, from snooping by stalkers and private investigators to businesses that sell personal data.

    "Given how few rules are currently on the books to protect our privacy, it's plausible that private investigators and data-mining companies could acquire this location data," Crump said. So far, the organization has requested more information from government agencies, but hasn't filed any lawsuits, Crump said.

    Little Rock's license plate reader is mounted in Officer Grant Humphries' patrol car. He said it's led to dozens of arrests and the recovery of a number of stolen vehicles and vehicles and license plates, although the exact number isn't known.
    As Humphries drives around town, a laptop processes the license plate numbers being photographed and emits a sound and flashes red when it finds a match.On a recent drive, Humphries fell in behind an SUV and pulled it over after the laptop went off.

    Moments later, he and another officer arrested passenger Montague Martin, who was wanted on outstanding warrants.
    As he sat handcuffed in the back of the patrol car, Martin said he thought the license plate reader was a good idea.

    "I'm not mad at what they're doing," Martin said before Humphries drove him to jail. "They're doing their job. I just didn't pay my ticket on time."

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