Law Enforcement License Plate Scans Are Stored And Accessible By The Public
Back in July I wrote about a new technology being used by North Dakota law enforcement which is attached to patrol vehicles and automatically scans visible license plates it passes to check for stolen vehicles, etc. It is an amazing technology that is no doubt a boon to law enforcement, but I also worried about the privacy aspects of it.
“If there is [a privacy threat], I believe it’s in the aggregate,” I wrote at the time. “A unit that scans license plates really isn’t all that different from a police officer scanning them by eye. Except that presumably it’s a lot more efficient. But what if all those scans were stored, along with the time and date and location? That would build a massive, and powerful, database of where our vehicles were observed at a given time.”
It turns out that just such a database has been created. According to this article in the Fargo Forum, the scans are saved for up to 60 days but longer if law enforcement flags them as part of an investigation. What’s more, they’re accessible to the public:
WEST FARGO – West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern says he doesn’t remember exactly what he was doing when his Dodge pickup was parked near Main Avenue and Center Street at 5:20 p.m. on July 9.
But a camera system mounted to a police car confirms he was there. And, with the minimal effort it takes to file an open records request, that information can be yours.
Under North Dakota law, data collected by automated license plate readers used by police is considered public information, just as it is in Minnesota.
The reaction from some may be to suggest that this data should not be accessible to the public. But if it is going to be collected it should be available to the public. And if that creeps you out because anyone – ex-spouses, stalkers, etc., etc. – can access it, then perhaps law enforcement ought not be collecting the data at all.Tags: license plate scanners, North Dakota News, privacy