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ACLU raises privacy concerns about police tracking license plates

Police around the United States are recording the license plates of passing drivers and storing the information for years with little privacy protection, the American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday.

The information potentially allows authorities to track the movements of everyone who drives a car.

The ACLU documented the police surveillance after reviewing 26,000 pages of material gathered through public records requests to almost 600 local and state police departments in 38 states and the District of Columbia.

The information is being gathered by surveillance technology called automatic license plate readers and it is being stored — sometimes indefinitely — with few or no privacy protections, the ACLU said.

“The documents paint a startling picture of a technology deployed with too few rules that is becoming a tool for mass routine location tracking and surveillance,” the ACLU said in a written statement.

The license plate readers alert police to an automobile associated with an investigation, “but such instances account for a tiny fraction of license plate scans, and too many police departments are storing millions of records about innocent drivers,” the ACLU said.

“Private companies are also using license plate readers and sharing the information they collect with police with little or no oversight or privacy protections. A lack of regulation means that policies governing how long our location data is kept vary widely,” the ACLU said.

The civil liberties group is advocating legislation regulating the use of the technology.

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