EFF obtained and analyzed records from the Oakland Police Department's secretive automatic license plate readers, showing that the department has mounted a program of incredibly intrusive, highly racialized secret surveillance of an entire city.
Police cars mounted with automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) wind their way through the streets of Oakland like a “Snake” game on an old cell phone. Instead of eating up pixels of food, these cameras gobble down thousands of license plates each day. And instead of growing a longer tail, ALPRs feed into a giant database of locational data as they conduct surveillance on every driver within the city limits, and sometimes beyond.
This is the portrait that emerged when EFF analyzed eight days of ALPR data provided by the City of Oakland in response to a request under the California Public Records Act.
As cities and counties across the country pursue new law enforcement technologies, EFF is on a mission to use transparency as a counterbalance to mass surveillance. Since May 2013, EFF and the ACLU of Southern California have been engaged in a legal battle with two Los Angeles law enforcement agencies who are refusing to hand over a week’s worth of ALPR data. San Diego County, another jurisdiction, has similarly fought efforts by citizens to obtain access to data that law enforcement has collected on them using ALPRs. Both claim that the records are exempted under the California Public Records Act because they are records of law enforcement investigations. The agencies also argue the public interest in maintaining secrecy in ALPR data outweighs the public interest in learning how and where ALPR systems are being used.
What You Can Learn from Oakland's Raw ALPR Data
[Jeremy Gillula and Dave Maass/EFF]
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