Wednesday, May 06, 2015

ACLU v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App. - May 6, 2015)

Today's opinion is technically about a Public Records Act request, not about the merits of the underlying program.  But for those unfamiliar with the scope of contemporary surveillance -- especially those who drive in Los Angeles -- I thought that several paragraph of the opinion bear repetition:

"Real Parties [the LAPD and the LA Sheriff's Department] each maintain an ALPR [Automatic License Plate Recognition] system that consists of several high-speed cameras mounted on fixed structures and patrol cars that automatically capture an image of every passing vehicle’s license plate in their immediate vicinity. The system uses "character recognition software” to read the license plate’s number from the image and “almost instantly” checks the number against a list of “known license plates” associated with suspected crimes—or a “hot list”—to determine whether a vehicle may be stolen or otherwise associated with a crime, AMBER alert or outstanding warrant. If a mobile ALPR unit detects a license plate on the hot list, officers are notified of the “hit” by an audible alert and notation on their patrol car’s computer screen. ALPR fixed positions similarly notify a central dispatch unit when a hit is detected.

In addition to extracting the license plate number, the ALPR system records the date and location where it captured the plate’s image. The system transmits this “plate scan data” to an ALPR server within Real Parties’ confidential computer networks. LAPD estimates it records plate scan data for approximately 1.2 million cars per week; LASD estimates that figure to be between 1.7 and 1.8 million plate scans for its ALPR system. LAPD retains plate scan data for five years under its current policy. LASD retains the data for two years, although it would prefer to retain the data indefinitely."

So in Los Angeles alone, the authorities record the real-time location of approximately three million vehicles every week, and store that information in a central database for years.  Three million people who've done nothing wrong.  Every week.

There are definitely benefits to this system.  You catch some criminals.  You help close some cases.

But it's a pretty heavy inroad into a pervasive surveillance state, eh?

Could be good.  Could be bad.

But definitely worth knowing -- and thinking -- about.