Tag Archives: license

New Documents Reveal Growing Database of License Plate Reader Cameras

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has received new documents via Freedom of Information Act requests that show the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has granted hundreds of thousands of dollars to local and state law enforcement agencies for the purchase of automatic license plate reader (ALPRs) systems.

ALPRs are used to gather license plate, time, date and location, that can be used to create a detailed map of what individuals are doing. The devices can be attached to light poles, or toll booths, as well as on top of or inside law enforcement vehicles. In 2012 the Wall Street Journal reported that the five previous years the Department of Homeland Security distributed over $50 million in grants to fund the acquisition of license plate readers.

The ACLU writes:

“The NHTSA is funding license plate readers for highway safety purposes only, but it’s far from clear how law enforcement agencies are interpreting this and whether they are using the funding to buy license plate readers for non-safety uses. The NHTSA should not be funding police technology for surveillance purposes and it should not let law enforcement apply for funding to decrease traffic fatalities and then turn around and use those funds to track people not suspected of any crime.”

The documents show that various state agencies received NHTSA funds for the purchase of ALPRs in order to document highway safety. While much of the grants are intended to be used to study highway safety, traffic congestion or similar benign activities the cameras have been shown to record other perfectly legal behavior. The ACLU has previously released documents that show the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was indeed using ALPRs to photograph vehicle occupants.

[quote_box_center]”We still do not know how police departments proposed to use license plate readers to improve ‘Safety Belt Performance’; does this mean the government would use the cameras to take pictures of people inside cars to see if they’re wearing seatbelts?” – American Civil Liberties Union[/quote_box_center]

Grants for the ALPRs have gone to law enforcement agencies in Vermont, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, California, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Illinois. Indiana requested funds, but it is unclear if NHTSA granted the funds. New York Division of Criminal Justice Services requested funding to purchase 70 license plate readers in 2008. It is also unclear if these funds were granted.

In May it was revealed that the FBI invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in license-plate reader technology despite conflicts regarding privacy concerns, according to newly released documents from the bureau.

The documents were also released through a Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU. Although heavily redacted, the emails show internal discussion on surveillance concerns related to the network of cameras that are used to capture and store license plate information.

In January TruthInMedia reported that the ACLU revealed the existence of a national program operated by the DEA  that collects and analyzes license plate information.

According to heavily redacted documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act Requests, the DEA has gathered as many as 343 million records in the National License Plate Recognition program. The initiative allows the DEA to connect its ALPRs and collected data with that of law enforcement agencies around the nation.

One document shows the DEA has at least 100 license plate readers in eight states, including California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey. Law enforcement in Southern California’s San Diego and Imperial Counties and New Jersey are among the agencies providing the DEA with data. The program opened to local and state partners in 2009.

The Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is one of the federal agencies working with the DEA. The documents also reveal the program mining license plate reader data “to identify travel patterns.”  The DEA has established 100 license plate readers in eight states, including California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey. A 2010 document also explains that the DEA had by then set up 41 plate reader monitoring stations throughout Texas, New Mexico, and California.

For more information check out the ACLU’s report “You Are Being Tracked: License Plate Readers Explained”

Arizona immigrants are now applying for driver’s licenses

Many young immigrants in Arizona are enjoying their new level of protection from deportation under President Obama by putting in requests for driver’s licenses and identification cards on Monday.

According to the AP, young immigrants waited patiently outside of various Motor Vehicle Division offices throughout the state, and when the doors opened, a cheer from the crowd went up.   Reporters interviewed some young people who said they were excited to get their licenses and drive legally without the fear of getting pulled over.

Over the next few weeks, state officials have said they are expecting many more young immigrants to apply for licenses and ID cards.

This is a shift from Gov. Jan Brewer’s policy which initially denied licenses to an estimated 20,000 immigrants.  On Dec. 18 though, according to FOX News, U.S. District Judge David Campbell barred the state from enforcing Brewer’s policy.

Attorneys for Brewer have said the move to deny licenses to immigrants was based on liability concerns, as well as making sure immigrant license holders do not improperly access public benefit programs.

Brewer has since asked the Supreme Court to review the decision.

The transportation officials have said they will begin work immediately on processing the applications for licenses and IDs for eligible immigrants.  Those who are eligible for licenses and IDs are immigrants younger than 30 who came to the U.S. before they were 16, who have lived in the U.S. for at least five consecutive years, who are enrolled in or graduated from high school or an equivalent program, or those immigrants who have, or are, serving in the military.