YCPD Using Surveillance Technology to Track and Trace
How do you feel knowing that York City Police are keeping detailed records of your daily movements and whereabouts? We feel it’s an affront to one of the basic principles of a free society – the right to be left alone. Citizens are to be presumed innocent, but with its automatic license plate scanners, the York City Police Department is watching everyone closely and without prejudice under a pall of unmitigated suspicion. If you’re unfamiliar with the specific reasons why we’re concerned about police use of automatic license plate scanners, listen to my interview or read our earlier coverage for more information. Or just keep reading.
In the summer of 2011 we launched an effort to halt the deployment of automatic license plate scanners in York City; or at the very least have their usage governed by strict, publicly available guidelines in accordance with recommendations from the International Association of Chiefs of Police ALPR Privacy Impact Assessment Report. Since then, the York City Police Department (with full blessing from city council) has disregarded repeated pleas to safeguard citizens’ privacy and moved forward with its plans to purchase and deploy three mobile license plate scanning systems.
The Struggle for Oversight
In November of 2011 I filed an RTK seeking access to the York City Police Department’s policy on automatic license plate scanners in an attempt to uncover any protections that may exist with regards to the data captured by the scanners; the sharing of said data, retention periods, etc. My request was DENIED under ‘homeland security’ pretenses. I received the following statement form the city:
… the City of York will not
release anything other than the date the scanner system is implemented. We will deny release of
the other records, when and if they exist, under the following exemptions for public records in
the Right-to-Know law:
Section 708, (b)(2) – A record maintained by an agency in connection with the military,
homeland security, national defense, law enforcement or other public safety activity that if disclosed would be reasonably likely to jeopardize or threaten public safety or preparedness or
public protection activity or a record that is designated classified by an appropriate Federal or
State military authority.
The operation of the scanner system falls under the category of a public safety activity,
and the release of information about it would be reasonably likely to jeopardize or threaten
Section 708, (b)(3)(i) and iii) – A record, the disclosure of which creates a reasonable
likelihood of endangering the safety or the physical security or a building, public utility,
resource, infrastructure, facility or information storage system, which may include: (i)
documents or data relating to computer hardware, source files, software and system networks
could jeopardize computer security by exposing a vulnerability in preventing, protecting against,
mitigating or responding to a terrorist act; … (iii) the building plans or infrastructure records
that expose or create vulnerability through disclosure of the location, configuration or security
of critical systems, including public utility systems, structural elements, technology,
communication, electrical, fire suppression, ventilation, water, wastewater, sewage and gas
Information about a computerized scanner systems falls under the category of
information storage system, computer software, computer security, and the location of
technology and communication systems.
Section 708, (b)(4) – record regarding computer hardware, software and networks,
including administrative or technical records, which, if disclosed, would be reasonably likely to
jeopardize computer security.
Information about a computerized scanner system falls under the category of computer
software and technical records.
Section 708, (b)(16) – A record of an agency relating to or resulting in a criminal
Section 708, (b)(17) – A record of an agency relating to a noncriminal investigation …
The software scanner system will be used in both criminal and traffic investigations.
ACLU, Privacy Activists Warn About Dangers of Scanners
In License Plate Scanners Logging Our Every Move ACLU Senior Policy analyst Jay Stanley decries the sort of unchecked deployment of scanners we’ve experienced here in York
“The police should not be able to run out and buy a new technology and put it in place before anybody realizes what’s going on — before society has a chance to discuss and debate it and consider where we want to draw the lines between police power and the freedom to live a private life. That decision is one that should be made through the full, open, democratic process — not quietly and unilaterally by police departments.”
Former council president Genevieve Ray disagrees with that sentiment. During a hearing discussing my proposal for a moratorium on the scanners, she said we’re not here to make policy for the police (video footage of meeting), and granted them free reign to do as they wish.
Real World Examples of License Plate Scanner Abuse
Police in NY have admitted using license plate scanners to target and track innocent members of the Muslim community. Some police departments have even used the scanners to collect sewer and library fees.
It’s entirely possible that YCPD has tracked your movements with great detail using GPS software and collated the records into a regional database shared between law enforcement and private companies. Sound far-fetched? Think again.
A Connecticut attorney filed a suit after discovering 10 regional police departments had pooled over 3 million records in a single database. I’m actively trying to pry details from the City of York to determine whether or not YCPD has a similar data-sharing arrangement, but officials have been less than forthcoming with any info.
I filed a second RTK request with the City of York as of this morning. I presume this one will also be denied. I intend to appeal any denial with the state Open Records office. Stay tuned for updates.