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Privacy Rights

Privacy Rights



Automatic License Plate Readers: A Threat To Americans’ Privacy

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ACLU of Nebraska Joins in Release of Documents on License Plate Scanners From Some 300 Police Departments Nationwide 

Documents Show Location Records Being Kept on Innocent Nebraskans

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 17, 2013

CONTACT:
Becki Brenner, 402-476-8091, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Josh Bell, 212-549-2666, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

LINCOLN – Police departments around the country, including in Nebraska, are rapidly expanding their use of automatic license plate readers to track the location of American drivers, but few have meaningful rules in place to protect drivers’ privacy rights, according to documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union. As a result, the new documents reveal, many departments are keeping innocent people’s location information stored for years or even indefinitely, regardless of whether there is any suspicion of a crime.

“The spread of these scanners is creating what are, in effect, government location tracking systems recording the movements of many millions of innocent Americans in huge databases,” said ACLU Staff Attorney Catherine Crump, the report’s lead author. “We don’t object to the use of these systems to flag cars that are stolen or belong to fugitives, but these documents show a dire need for rules to make sure that this technology isn’t used for unbridled government surveillance.”

The systems use cameras mounted on patrol cars or on objects like road signs and bridges, and the documents show that their deployment is increasing rapidly, with significant funding coming from federal grants. They photograph every license plate they encounter, use software to read the number and add a time and location stamp, then record the information in a database. Police are alerted when numbers match lists containing license numbers of interest, such as stolen cars.

Last summer, ACLU of Nebraska along with affiliates in 37 other states and Washington filed nearly 600 freedom of information requests asking federal, state, and local agencies how they use the readers. The 26,000 pages of documents produced by the agencies that responded – about half – include training materials, internal memos, and policy statements. The results and analysis are detailed in an ACLU report released today called “You Are Being Tracked,” which includes charts and policy recommendations.

The study found that not only are license plate scanners widely deployed, but few police departments place any substantial restrictions on how they can be used. Omaha and Lincoln Police Departments have used license plate readers but have no formal writen policies associated with their use. Records show that the OPD database still has photographs from 2009. While many police departments do prohibit police officers from using license plate readers for personal uses such as tracking friends, these are the only restrictions.

A tiny fraction of the license plate scans are flagged as “hits.” For example, the Nebraska State Patrol scanned almost 7,000 plates during a one-month period of time in 2008. This lead to 14 hits (.002%) all of which were eventually rejected.

“The fact that some jurisdictions delete the records quickly shows that it is a completely reasonable and workable policy. We need to see more laws and policies in place that let police protect both public safety and privacy,” said Becki Brenner, ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director. “The police should not be storing data about people who are not even suspected of doing anything wrong. Targeting everyone at a so-called 'gang funeral' as one Nebraska agency did shows the clear overreach possible when this technology is used without proper oversight."

The ACLU report released today has over a dozen specific recommendations for government use of license plate scanner systems, including: police must have reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred before examining the data; unless there are legitimate reasons to retain records, they should be deleted within days or weeks at most; and, people should be able to find out if their cars’ location history is in a law enforcement database.

License plate readers are used not only by police but also by private companies, which themselves make their data available to police with little or no oversight or privacy protections. One of these private databases, run by a company called Vigilant Solutions, holds over 800 million license plate location records and is used by over 2,200 law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“Police departments should not use databases that do not have adequate private protections in place,” said Amy Miller, ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director.

 

Highlights from the Nebraska section of this nationwide report are available at:
aclunebraska.org/index.php/privacy/178-automatic-license-plate-readers-a-threat-to-americans-privacy

The report, an interactive map with links to the documents, and an interactive slide show are available at:
aclu.org/plates

This press release is at:
aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/aclu-releases-documents-license-plate-scanners-some-300-police-departments

Attachments:
Download this file (Nebraska_Fact_Sheet_7-10-13.pdf)Nebraska_Fact_Sheet_7-10-13.pdf[ ]31 Kb
 

ACLU Seeks Details on Automatic License Plate Readers

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ACLU Seeks Details on Automatic License Plate Readers in Massive Nationwide Request

Information Sought on How Cameras are Used by Police Agencies and How Data is Stored

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
July 30, 2012

CONTACT: Josh Bell, (212) 549-2666;  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ;
Amy Miller or Becki Brenner, (402) 476-8091: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

NEW YORK –American Civil Liberties Union affiliates in 35 states, including Nebraska, sent requests today to local police departments and state agencies that demand information on how they use automatic license plate readers (ALPR) to track and record Americans’ movements.

In Nebraska, letters were sent to the state’s three largest law enforcement offices: the State Patrol, Omaha Police Department and the Lincoln Police Department.

In addition, the ACLU and the ACLU of Massachusetts filed federal Freedom of Information Act requests with the departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Transportation to learn how the federal government funds ALPR expansion nationwide and uses the technology itself. ACLU of Nebraska sent additional letters to the Department of Roads and the Nebraska Information Analysis Center to determine their role in funding ALPR programs.

ALPRs are cameras mounted on patrol cars or on stationary objects along roads – such as telephone poles or the underside of bridges –that snap a photograph of every license plate that enters their fields of view. Typically, each photo is time, date, and GPS-stamped, stored, and sent to a database, which provides an alert to a patrol officer whenever a match or “hit” appears.

“Automatic license plate readers make it possible for the police to track our location whenever we drive our cars and to store that information forever,” said Amy Miller, Legal Director for ACLU of Nebraska. “The American people have a right to know whether our police departments are using these tools in a limited and responsible manner, or whether they are keeping records of our movements for months or years for no good reason.”

ALPRs are spreading rapidly around the country, but the public has little information about how they are used to track motorists’ movements, including how long data collected by ALPRs is stored, and whether local police departments pool this information in state, regional or national databases. If ALPRs are being used as a tool for mass routine location tracking and surveillance and to collect and store information not just on people suspected of crimes, but on every single motorist, the American people should know that so that they can voice their concerns.

ALPRs have already proven controversial. Just last month the Drug Enforcement Administration withdrew its request to install ALPRs along certain portions of Interstate 15 in Utah after they were met with resistance by local lawmakers.

“Tracking and recording people’s movements raises serious privacy concerns, because where we go can reveal a great deal about us, including visits to doctor’s offices, political meetings, and friends.” said Miller. “We need legal protections to limit the collection, retention and sharing of our travel information, and we need these rules right away.”

More information about the requests is available at: aclu.org/plates

###

ABOUT: ACLU Nebraska and its diverse membership works in courts, the legislature and our communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States and Nebraska guarantee everyone in this state.

 

 

Attachments:
Download this file (LPD ALPR Request 07.30.12.pdf)LPD ALPR Request 07.30.12.pdf[ ]374 Kb
 

Drug Testing Educators is Demeaning and Unconstitutional

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ACLU to Gering Public Schools: Stop Unconstitutional and Demeaning Drug Testing Policy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 24, 2012
LINCOLN – The ACLU sent a letter today to Gering Public Schools Board of Education President Mike Brunner in response to news reports of a random drug testing policy being discussed by the Board. The policy being discussed would start with the 2012-2013 school year. The school already has a drug testing policy for students.
ACLU Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller released the following statement:
Suspicionless drug testing policies are unconstitutional, ineffective, and a waste of taxpayer dollars. The proposed drug testing policy would violate the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that the government have individualized suspicion before forcing someone to submit to a drug test. Drug tests without cause are a brazen attempt by the government to intrude upon citizens’ privacy.
A policy that requires educators to submit to drug testing is unconstitutional and demeaning. Educators who volunteer their time to help mentor young people should not be asked to sacrifice privacy and dignity.
We urge residents of Gering Public Schools to stand-up for the dignity of educators in their community and oppose this policy by contacting the school board.
A copy of the letter to the school board is available at www.aclunebraska.org
###
ABOUT: ACLU Nebraska and its diverse membership works in courts, the legislature and our communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States and Nebraska guarantee everyone in this state.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 24, 2012

CONTACT:  Amy Miller, (402) 476-8091,  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN – The ACLU sent a letter today to Gering Public Schools Board of Education President Mike Brunner in response to news reports of a random drug testing policy being discussed by the Board. The policy being discussed would start with the 2012-2013 school year. The school already has a drug testing policy for students.

ACLU Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller released the following statement:

Suspicionless drug testing policies are unconstitutional, ineffective, and a waste of taxpayer dollars. The proposed drug testing policy would violate the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that the government have individualized suspicion before forcing someone to submit to a drug test. Drug tests without cause are a brazen attempt by the government to intrude upon citizens’ privacy.

A policy that requires educators to submit to drug testing is unconstitutional and demeaning. Educators who volunteer their time to help mentor young people should not be asked to sacrifice privacy and dignity.

We urge residents of Gering Public Schools to stand-up for the dignity of educators in their community and oppose this policy by contacting the school board.

A copy of the letter to the school board is available at www.aclunebraska.org

 

Nebraska Police Are Spying on You

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ACLU Releases Cell Phone Tracking Documents From 200+ Police Departments Nationwide

Pervasive and Frequent Violations of Americans' Privacy Rights

CONTACT: Josh Bell, (212) 549-2666; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

NEW YORK – Many of the approximately 200 law enforcement agencies responding to public record requests by the American Civil Liberties Union track cell phones without a warrant, according to documents newly released by the ACLU.

A small number of agencies, such as in North Las Vegas and Wichita, said they do obtain warrants based on probable cause before tracking. Others, such as the Kentucky State Police, said they use varying legal standards, such as a warrant or a less-strict subpoena. The result is unclear or inconsistent legal standards from town to town that frequently fall short of probable cause.

"What we have learned is disturbing. The government should have to get a warrant before tracking cell phones. That is what is necessary to protect Americans' privacy, and it is also what is required under the Constitution," said Catherine Crump, staff attorney for the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. "The fact that some law enforcement agencies do get warrants shows that a probable cause requirement is a completely reasonable and workable policy, allowing police to protect both public safety and privacy."

Last August, in an unprecedented effort to penetrate the secrecy around the policies, 35 ACLU affiliates around the country filed over 380 requests under states' freedom of information laws. The ACLU asked state and local law enforcement agencies about their policies, procedures and practices for tracking cell phones.

The responses varied widely, and many agencies did not respond at all. The documents included statements of policy, memos, police requests to cell phone companies (sometimes in the form of a subpoena or warrant), and invoices and manuals from cell phone companies explaining their procedures and prices for turning over location data.

The documents provide an eye-opening view of police surveillance of Americans. In Wilson County, N.C., police obtain cell phone tracking data where it is "relevant and material" to an ongoing investigation – a standard much lower than probable cause. Police in Lincoln, Neb., without demonstrating probable cause, obtain even GPS location data, which is more precise than cell tower location information. In Tucson, Ariz., police sometimes obtain cell phones numbers for all of the phones at a particular location at a certain time (this practice is known as a "tower dump").

The ACLU supports bipartisan legislation currently pending in both the House of Representatives and the Senate that would address this problem called the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act. It would require law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant to access location information from cell phones or GPS devices. It would also mandate that private telecommunications companies obtain their customers' consent before collecting location data. At least 11 state legislatures are also considering bills related to location tracking.

The U.S. Supreme Court in January held in U.S. v. Jones, that prolonged location tracking is a search under the Fourth Amendment, but the effects of that ruling on law enforcement have yet to be seen.

A detailed analysis of the documents is available at:
www.aclu.org/files/assets/cell_phone_tracking_documents_-_final.pdf

Links to the documents are available in an interactive map at:
www.aclu.org/maps/your-local-law-enforcement-tracking-your-cell-phones-location

More information is available at:
www.aclu.org/locationtracking

Cell Phone Tracking Research: NEBRASKA RESULTS
For more information, contact Amy Miller (402) 476-8091

BACKGROUND: ACLU Nebraska did THREE requests as part of the local : Omaha Police, Lincoln Police, NE State Patrol. We chose them because they are the three largest law enforcement agencies in Nebraska. The requests were made in August, 2011. Records came back from each agency on a slightly different schedule, but the final records came back when OPD responded last week.

LINCOLN POLICE: LPD does use cell phone tracking. They report getting search warrants / court orders 10-15 times per year for non-emergency situations. They also do 10 emergency tracking incidents per month, which do not have any court order or warrant. While they've developed standard templates for applying for court orders, LPD has no policies or procedures around cell phone tracking.

NE STATE PATROL: NSP does use cell phone tracking. They report they always use search warrants except in emergency location situations. They have no written procedures. In the space of one year, NSP requested warrants 4 times in non-emergency situations and 9 exigent circumstances.

OMAHA POLICE: OPD does use cell phone tracking. They report they sometimes use court ordered warrants but sometimes rely on just the prosecutor's subpoena. They have no written procedures. OPD refused to provide any data on how frequently they have utilized cell phone tracking at all.

The following statement can be attributed to Amy Miller, ACLU Nebraska Legal Director: "This nationwide study shows this is a local problem. The three largest law enforcement agencies in Nebraska ARE tracking our cell phones, and most of that is happening without any court oversight. Most of cell phone users agree: it's just creepy. We want regulations to safeguard our privacy."

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Is local law enforcement spying on you?

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UPDATE: See responses from law enforcement in Nebraska here.


Demand Your dotRights

ACLU Seeks Details on Government Phone Tracking in Massive Nationwide Information Request

Campaign is One of the Largest Coordinated Information Act Requests in American History

 

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 3, 2011

 

CONTACT: Robyn Shepherd, (212) 519-7829 or 2666;  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

or Amy Miller, (402) 476-8091

NEW YORK – In a massive coordinated information-seeking campaign, 38 American Civil Liberties Union affiliates across the nation today are sending requests to over 350 local law enforcement agencies large and small demanding to know when, why and how they are using cell phone location data to track Americans. The campaign is one of the largest coordinated information act requests in American history. The requests, being filed under the states' freedom of information laws, are an effort to strip away the secrecy that has surrounded law enforcement use of cell phone tracking capabilities.

“The ability to access cell phone location data is an incredibly powerful tool and its use is shrouded in secrecy. The public has a right to know how and under what circumstances their location information is being accessed by the government,” said Catherine Crump, staff attorney for the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “A detailed history of someone's movements is extremely personal and is the kind of information the Constitution protects.”

Law enforcement agencies are being asked for information including:

  • whether law enforcement agents demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant to access cell phone location data;
  • statistics on how frequently law enforcement agencies obtain cell phone location data;
  • how much money law enforcement agencies spend tracking cell phones and
  • other policies and procedures used for acquiring location data.

Law enforcement’s use of cell phone location data has been widespread for years, although it has become increasingly controversial recently. Just last week, the general counsel of the National Security Agency suggested to members of Congress that the NSA might have the authority to collect the location information of American citizens inside the U.S. Also, this spring, researchers revealed that iPhones were collecting and storing location information in unknown files on the phone. Police in Michigan sought information about every cell phone near the site of a planned labor protest.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether police need a warrant to place a GPS tracking device on a person's vehicle. While that case does not involve cell phones, it could influence the rules police have to follow for cell phone tracking.

Congress is considering the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act, a bill supported by the ACLU that would require police to get a warrant to obtain personal location information. The bill would protect both historical and real-time location data, and would also require customers' consent for telecommunications companies to collect location data.

Today’s requests are part of the ACLU’s Demand Your dotRights Campaign, the organization’s campaign to make sure that as technology advances, privacy rights are not left behind.

In Nebraska, the ACLU has filed open records requests of the Omaha Police Department, the Lincoln Police Department, and the Nebraska State Patrol.  “We’ve asked the three largest law enforcement agencies whether they’re keeping track of Nebraskans.  If we learn they are, more requests will follow,” said Amy Miller, Legal Director for ACLU Nebraska.

Read more about the national campaign at http://www.aclu.org/locationtracking

Read the ACLU Nebraska request online at www.aclunebraska.org

---

Attachments:
Download this file (Cell Phone Tracking Request OPD Aug 2011.pdf)Cell Phone Tracking Request OPD Aug 2011.pdf[Letter to OPD regarding cell phone tracking in August of 2011.]390 Kb
 
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