Some Law Enforcers Don’t Secure Their License Plate Recognition Cameras


In an investigation of law enforcement agencies’ automated license plate recognition systems, the California-based Electronic Frontier Foundation was able to track five cameras that were exposed online, with open Web pages accessible by anyone with a browser. The agencies involved are the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office, Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, and the Kenner Police in Louisiana; the Hialeah Police Department in Florida; and the University of Southern California's public safety department. The foundation says that some agencies around the U.S. “have put little effort into ensuring the systems are secure and the sensitive data they collect on everyday people is protected.”

The systems alert police when a camera recognizes a car on a “hot list,” an index of cars that are stolen or believed to be tied to criminal activities. Most automated systems collect and store data on every car, and the data may be stored for many years, in case the vehicle later comes under suspicion. If the system is breached, says the foundation, it is breach of potentially every driver's travel history. The data could reveal all sorts of personal information, including what doctors people visit, what protests they attend, and where they work, shop, worship, and sleep at night. The foundation suggested that all law enforcement agencies with such equipment do a security audit, concluding that, “Surveillance technology without adequate security measures puts everyone's safety at risk.”

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