RALEIGH – Police departments in North Carolina and around the country are rapidly expanding their use of automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) to track the location of drivers, but few have meaningful rules in place to protect drivers’ privacy rights, according to documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). As a result, the new documents reveal, many departments are keeping innocent people’s location information stored for years or even indefinitely, regardless of whether there is any suspicion of a crime.
The systems use cameras mounted on patrol cars or on objects like road signs and bridges, and the documents show that their deployment is increasing rapidly, with significant funding coming from federal grants. They photograph every license plate they encounter, use software to read the number and add a time and location stamp, then record the information in a database. Police are alerted when numbers match lists containing license numbers of interest, such as stolen cars.
“Automatic license plate readers allow the government to record the movement of countless citizens and then store that information in massive databases,” said Sarah Preston, Policy Director for the ACLU of North Carolina. “We don’t object to the use of these scanners to flag cars that are stolen or used in a crime, but our findings show a dire need to enact safeguards that will protect the privacy of North Carolinians and ensure that this technology does not lead to the routine tracking of innocent people who have done nothing wrong.”