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License plate data scanned, stored in three Idaho cities

License plate data scanned, stored in three Idaho cities

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
July 20, 2013

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has published an extensive report indicating that local law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. are scanning and retaining vehicle license plate data, including recording the times and locations where vehicles are being operated.

In Idaho there are law enforcement agencies in both the southern and northern regions of the state that are utilizing this type of technology, while the Idaho State Police (ISP) has access to the collected data in northern Idaho.

In an extensive report entitled “You Are Being Tracked: How License Plate Readers Are Being Used To Record Americans’ Movements,” the ACLU says that an expanding network of police cameras is capturing, storing and sharing data on virtually every vehicle in America that has a license plate attached to it, enabling government agencies to track people’s movements whether or not they are violating any laws.

Mark McBride, chief of police in Idaho Falls, confirmed for IdahoReporter.com that his city is using the license plate scanner technology. “Basically there are cameras that are placed in strategic locations on a police vehicle,” he explained. “It reads and records license plate information on passing vehicles and that data is then stored in a database.”

McBride said that only one vehicle in his department is outfitted with the technology, but added that “basically every time the vehicle is out being driven around, the scanner is activated.”

McBride said that the scanner technology was provided to the Idaho Falls Police Department by a federal grant from the DHS, which was administered through the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office. He is uncertain how long the time-and-date verified license plate data is stored, but also reported that the data is stored on servers located several miles away in Madison County.

According to ISP spokesperson Teresa Baker, two police departments in northern Idaho are using the federally funded license plate scanning technology.

“We (ISP) don’t have the scanners ourselves, but we can access the data collected by the police departments in Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene,” she told IdahoReporter.com. “We can tap in to their data base and add that information to our hit list if we’re searching for a particular vehicle.”

Baker said that the Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene police departments received funding for their scanning technology from federal grants administered by the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office, although she was not sure if the grants were issued from the DHS or the DOJ. Calls placed to the Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene police departments from IdahoReporter.com were not returned.

“Anytime government is compiling large amounts of data about private citizens and holding on to that data, and when there are no guidelines on how that data is collected or stored or used, we have a strong concern,” commented Monica Hopkins, director of the Idaho Chapter of the ACLU. “We have a strong concern with individual privacy in this situation, and this appears to be another case of government over-reach. We raised these concerns in recent years with local agencies receiving federal funding for the use of drones, and it appears we may have another serious problem with the scanning technology.”

The ACLU report also claims that for the first time in America’s history, the number of license plate “captures” has reached the millions and the data can be stored for a matter of weeks or years, and sometimes even indefinitely, with data being shared among various government agencies.

“The federal government has given state and local agencies billions of dollars in ‘law enforcement’ and ‘homeland security’ aid over the past decade,” wrote Kade Crockford, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Technology for Liberty Project. “Taxpayers deserve to know exactly how that money is spent, and where, so that we can decide whether or not these investments are worth it, and so we can understand to what extent federal money is driving local policing practices.”

Crockford said that federal grant money has been sent to local law enforcement agencies from both the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). “To what extent is the federal government funding the transformation of our local police departments into militarized, quasi-intelligence agencies, equipped with the latest surveillance and monitoring equipment?” Crockford asked in a recent website post.

Crockford’s full essay can be viewed HERE.

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