How to Ensure the Policy Safeguards Your Privacy Interests
More than a year after the York LP called for a moratorium on the purchase of automatic license plate scanners in the city of York, and two Right-to-Know requests later, public release of a policy governing the use of the devices is imminent, according to York City Police Chief Wes Kahley.
Chief Kahley says the policy was authored in accordance with guidelines from the International Association of Chiefs of Police license plate scanner Privacy Impact Assessment report.
In order to safeguard innocent citizens from the threat of wholesale, retroactive surveillance and location tracking, it’s imperative that a commensurate set of checks and balances be put in place to offset the department’s enhanced surveillance capacities. The following are my suggestions.
Police Want to be able to “Google Search” Your Mobility Patterns
- Data Retention – How long will the police department be storing information gathered from license plate scanners? Infomation not associated with an on-going criminal investigation should be purged within 14 days.
Information collected by scanners contains significant amounts of data including the time, date and GPS coordinates of each scan. Accumulated data can be collated and data-mined to reveal innocent citizens driving patterns. One Minnesota mayor found that out the hard way. The Department of Homeland Security has directed local police agencies to profile citizens and create ‘individualized threat mosaics’ based on their location patterns.
- Information Sharing – Will the department be releasing data captured from the scanners to other public and/or private agencies? Information not associated with an on-going criminal investigation must not be shared with other law enforcement or private agencies.
This should be self-explanatory. It’s not always so simple, though. Some license plate scanner vendors function as a third-party data warehouse, storing information from scanners in shared regional spaces and automatically sharing data on innocent citizens driving patterns through an intranet spread among various government agencies by way of fusion centers.
Speaking at a National Institute of Justice conference on license plate scanners, Dale Stockton (head of Operation RoadRunner, a project of the Automated Regional Justice Information System in California) said such a system would be “something akin to a Google search”.
- Hot Lists – What type of cars will police look for? Will police look for cars with information shared from other departments? Information shared with the department by other public/private agencies, which is not related to on-going criminal investigations, must not be stored and used by the department.
Due to the relative ease of sharing data from license pate scans, and evidence that prolific amounts of sharing occur, we must safeguard against private contractors and other law enforcement agencies sourcing data on innocent citizens and sharing the data with the department. This is a loophole that would allow local police to off-load surveillance to a third party.
The Trap Door
I filed two Right-To-Know requests that were both denied by the city, citing ‘homeland security’ as an exemption. If history is any indicator, be on the lookout for phrases such as “except for public safety” and the like. It’s likely the department will go to any means to maintain its retroactive surveillance capacities intact. Remember, after all, that it’s been over a year and if it weren’t for consistent public pressure the chief would have never even considered drafting a policy, let alone making it public.
Related ArticlesYork City Schools Implement Biometric Finger Scans Without Parental ConsentUPDATE: York City Police Department Denies Access to RecordsYork County Police Seeking Federal Funds for Pre-Crime Intelligence SystemA Case Against More COPS Funding in YorkMy (REJECTED) Letter to the Editor: When Child Abuse and the Stop Snitching Culture CollideYork Economic Development Director Kevin Schreiber Eyes 95th District SeatCommunity Reacts to York City Police Beating of Young StudentCouncilman Helfrich Calls for Policy on License Plate ScannersLetter to the editor: Keep city police from spying on innocent citizensACLU: License Plate Scanners a Threat to Americans' Privacy