Privacy rights groups sued Los Angeles County’s two major law enforcement agencies after they refused to turn over information collected by electronic license plate scanners, the Los Angeles Times reports. The Los Angeles Police Department and L.A. County Sheriff’s Department have made use of the plate-reading technology for several years. Typically mounted on patrol vehicles, the small cameras continuously scan license plates and check them against criminal databases in search of stolen cars and cars registered to known fugitives.
Police and sheriff’s officials have lauded the technology, saying it snares far more stolen vehicles than officers can on their own. Because the cameras record the exact time and location of a scanned car, police also see the devices as a potentially powerful tool for detectives trying to retrace the whereabouts of someone suspected of a crime — even if it is several months or years after the car was scanned. In suing, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation raised concerns that the license plate information collected and stored by the two departments invades people’s privacy. The ACLU’s Peter Bibring said his group has no objection to police using the cameras to search for stolen vehicles but wants the LAPD and Sheriff’s Department to erase quickly any data on cars and drivers not connected to any crime.