It's not just governments and law enforcement agencies that are advocating the use of license plate readers, as The Intercept's Lee Fang reports:
As privacy advocates battle to rein in the use of automated license plate readers (ALPRs), they're going up against another industry that benefits from this mass surveillance: lenders and debt collectors. [...] In Rhode Island, for instance, state Rep. Larry Valencia and state Sen. Gayle Goldin proposed bills in 2014 to prohibit the sale or trade of data collected by ALPRs, and to mandate that the state destroy records after one year.
I filed a records request and found two letters in opposition. One letter came from the[sic] Steven G. O'Donnell, on behalf of the Rhode Island State Police, arguing that law enforcement should be able to come up with its own internal procedures to govern the use of ALPRs. The other letter came from Danielle Fagre Arlow, senior vice president to the American Financial Services Association (AFSA), a trade group for consumer lending companies, some of which target the subprime market.
"Our particular interest in the bill," Arlow wrote, "is the negative impact it would have on ALPR’s valuable role in our industry – the ability to identify and recover vehicles associated with owners who have defaulted on their loans and are not responding to good-faith efforts to contact them." Arlow opposed the bill's restrictions on "how long data can be kept because access to historical data is important in determining where hard-to-find vehicles are likely located."
AFSA lobbied against several similar bills as they were proposed around the country. In Massachussetts, the group lobbied against a bill designed to destroy ALPR records after 90 days. AFSA argued that such a regime is unfair because "ALPR systems work best when they are used to string together the historical locations of vehicles."
[...] According to the ACLU of Rhode Island, the ALPR privacy bill died last session — notably, the bill failed after the consumer lending lobbyists voiced their opposition.
Unofficial Secrets is a newly launched and more frequently updated blog from First Look Media/The Intercept.
DHS Wants a National License Plate Tracking System
Ars Technica Obtains Large Dataset of Oakland Police Department License Plate Scans
Watch Out for "Automated Vehicle Occupancy Detection"
siliconwafer writes "The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is looking to acquire a vehicle license plate tracking system, to be used at the national level. According to the solicitation obtained by the Washington Post, commercial readers, supplied by a private company, would scan the plate of vehicles and store them in a "National License Plate Recognition" (NLPR) database. This is already being done at the state level, and privacy advocates are up in arms, with EFF and ACLU suing California over their automatic plate readers. Now that this has potential to become a broad and national program."
[ED Note: "Shortly after the Washington Post broke the story on the national plate reading system, it appears the DHS has shelved their plans for the tracking system, by order of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, at least in the interim."]
Ars Technica used a public records request to obtain a large dataset of license plate scans from 33 License Plate Readers (LPRs) in Oakland, California:
OAKLAND, Calif.—If you have driven in Oakland any time in the last few years, chances are good that the cops know where you’ve been, thanks to their 33 automated license plate readers (LPRs).
Now Ars knows too.
In response to a public records request, we obtained the entire LPR dataset of the Oakland Police Department (OPD), including more than 4.6 million reads of over 1.1 million unique plates between December 23, 2010 and May 31, 2014. The dataset is likely one of the largest ever publicly released in the United States—perhaps in the world.
After analyzing this data with a custom-built visualization tool, Ars can definitively demonstrate the data's revelatory potential. Anyone in possession of enough data can often—but not always—make educated guesses about a target’s home or workplace, particularly when someone’s movements are consistent (as with a regular commute).
It seems the cars of police officers, politicians, and others doing the spying should have been captured by the LPRs too. A prize for the first person to separate out what they've been up to...
A bill in the California Senate would allow drivers to cover their license plates when parked to prevent automated license plate readers from reading them. Law enforcement (or somebody else) would have to manually lift the cover to obtain the license plate number:
If the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a San Diego-based Republican state senator have their way, it will soon become legal for Californians to cover their license plates while parked as a way to thwart automated license plate readers.
[...] As written, the new senate bill would allow for law enforcement to manually lift a cover, or flap, as a way to manually inspect a plate number. The idea is not only to prevent dragnet license plate data collection by law enforcement, but also by private companies. A California company, Vigilant Solutions, is believed to have the largest private ALPR database in America, with billions of records.
Ars is unaware of a commercially available product that would allow a license plate to be easily blocked in this fashion. A man in Florida was arrested earlier this year for using a miniature black screen that could be activated via remote control as a way to block his plate number when he passed through automated toll booths.
The new bill will come up before the California State Senate Transportation and Housing Committee on Tuesday, May 9—the first stop in the legislative process.
The California Police Chiefs Association has already filed its opposition to the bill. In a letter to Sen. Joel Anderson, the group argued that the bill would only benefit one group: "those who are trying to evade law enforcement and detection." Similarly, the bill has faced resistance from the California Public Parking Association, among other groups.
DHS Wants a National License Plate Tracking System
Debt Collectors Fight Privacy Advocates Over License Plate Readers
Arizona City Using Fake Cacti to Hide License Plate Cameras
Louisiana Governor Vetoes License Plate Reader Bill, Citing Privacy Concerns.
Open Source License Plate Reader: Little Brother Strikes Back!
Federal Agents Enlisted Local Police to Scan License Plates at Gun Shows
Amazon Wants to Scan Your License Plate
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is warning of a new surveillance technology to look out for alongside drones, automatic license plate readers, facial recognition, IMSI catchers (like Stingray), and Rapid DNA analyzers. It's Xerox's new and improved system for Automated Vehicle Occupancy Detection, also known as Automated Vehicle Passenger Detection or Automated Vehicle Occupancy Verification:
For years, government agencies have chased technologies that would make it easier to ensure that vehicles in carpool lanes are actually carrying multiple passengers. Perhaps the only reason these systems haven't garnered much attention is that they haven't been particularly effective or accurate, as UC Berkeley researchers noted in a 2011 report.
Now, an agency in San Diego, Calif. believes it may have found the answer: the Automated Vehicle Passenger Detection system developed by Xerox.
The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), a government umbrella group that develops transportation and public safety initiatives across the San Diego County region, estimates that 15% of drivers in High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes aren't supposed to be there. After coming up short with earlier experimental projects, the agency is now testing a brand new technology to crack down on carpool-lane scofflaws on the I-15 freeway.
Documents obtained by CBS 8 reporter David Gotfredson show that Xerox's system uses two cameras to capture the front and side views of a car's interior. Then "video analytics" and "geometric algorithms" are used to detect whether the seats are occupied.
When the detection system's computer determines a driver is improperly traveling in the carpool lane, the cameras instantly send photos of the car's interior and its license plate to the California Highway Patrol.
In short: the technology is looking at your image, the image of the people you're with, your location, and your license plate. (SANDAG told CBS the systems will not be storing license plate data during the trial phase and the system will, at least for now, automatically redact images of drivers and passengers. Xerox's software, however, allows police the option of using a weaker form of redaction that can be reversed on request.)