The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Muckrock teamed up to use the Freedom of Information Act to extract the details of 200 US cities' Automated License Plate Recognition camera programs (ALPR), and today they've released a dataset containing all the heretofore secret data on how these programs are administered and what is done with the data they collect.
All told, these programs account for 2.5 billion license plate scans, in which 95% of the vehicles scanned were not under suspicion of any wrongdoing. The data collected in each program was shared with an average of 160 other agencies.
Urban law-enforcement surveillance programs are shrouded in secrecy. EFF has successfully assisted community activists in Oakland in the passage of the best-in-class transparency rules for new surveillance programs, and where cities do not voluntarily disclose their street-level surveillance, EFF is working to force them to do so.
Today we are releasing records obtained from 200 agencies, accounting for more than 2.5-billion license plate scans in 2016 and 2017. This data is collected regardless of whether the vehicle or its owner or driver are suspected of being involved in a crime. In fact, the information shows that 99.5% of the license plates scanned were not under suspicion at the time the vehicles’ plates were collected.
On average, agencies are sharing data with a minimum of 160 other agencies through Vigilant Solutions’ LEARN system, though many agencies are sharing data with over 800 separate entities.
Click below to explore EFF and MuckRock’s dataset and learn how much data these agencies are collecting and how they are sharing it. We've made the information searchable and downloadable as a CSV file. You can also read the source documents on DocumentCloud or track our ongoing requests.
EFF and MuckRock Release Records and Data from 200 Law Enforcement Agencies' Automated License Plate Reader Programs
[Dave Maass and Beryl Lipton/EFF Deeplinks]
Dale Maharidge is a journalist and J-school professor who is dear old friends with the muckracking, outstanding political documentarian Laura Poitras. Jessica Bruder (previously) is a a writer and J-school prof who's best friends with Maharidge. When Laura Poitras was contacted by an NSA whistleblower who wanted to send her the leak of the century, she asked Maharidge for help finding a safe address for a postal delivery, and Maharidge gave her Bruder's Brooklyn apartment address. A few weeks later, Bruder came home from a work-trip to discover a box on her doormat with the return address of "B. Manning, 94-1054 Eleu St, Waipau, HI 96797." In it was a hard-drive. The story of what happened next is documented in a beautifully written, gripping new book: Snowden's Box: Trust in the Age of Surveillance.
Tracking entire populations now with electronic surveillance, facial recognition, and biosecurity sensors to combat the coronavirus pandemic will inevitably mean even more invasive forms of government spying later, privacy advocates warn.
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