-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger
The new toy is Automatic License Plate Reader/Recognition (ALPR), and a cool toy it is. It basically reads every license plate its cameras see and compares that data to a list. That list might contain the license plates of stolen vehicles, the license plates of drivers with suspended licenses or no insurance, and “Amber Alerts.” This all happens automatically, in real-time.
The systems also stores the date and time of every license plate and the corresponding GPS coordinates, even for law-abiding citizens. Therein lies the potential for abuse.
Federal grants for ALPRs, given to cities and towns, come with the stipulation that all data must be submitted to the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS), a massive government database in hills of West Virginia. It won’t be long before the federal and state governments will require all license plates be ALPR-compliant, that is, easy for ALPRs to read.
As explained by the LAPD Chief of Detectives, the “real value” of the ALPR “comes from the long-term investigative uses of being able to track vehicles—where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing.”
ALPR does the same thing as a police officer does, it reads the plate, it compares the plate to a list, and it remembers what it sees and where it sees it. The courts have held that police officers can run license plates at their discretion without violating the Fourth Amendment.
In the case of United States of America, Plaintiff-appellee, v. Charles N. Matthews, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held that a “license plate was in plain view on the outside of the car” and hence, is “subject to seizure” because there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.
In the case of United States of America, Plaintiff v. Curtis Ellison, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held:
Thus, so long as the officer had a right to be in a position to observe the defendant’s license plate, any such observation and corresponding use of the information on the plate does not violate the Fourth Amendment.
The Supreme Court denied the writ of certiorari in the case of Curtis Ellison, Petitioner v. United States.