Court Rules California Police Can't Avoid Public Scrutiny of License Plate Reader Program

The California Supreme Court ruled that the mass, indiscriminate collection of license plate data by California police cannot be shielded from public scrutiny. In response to an open records request by EFF and the ACLU of Southern California, Los Angeles area law enforcement attempted to prevent disclosure by claiming all license plate data were "investigative records." The court ruled that the license plate data of millions of law-abiding citizens was not an "investigative record." The Court stated, "It is hard to imagine that the Legislature intended for the records of investigations exemption to reach the large volume of data that plate scanners and other similar technologies now enable agencies to collect indiscriminately." EPIC filed an amicus brief in the public records case stating, "Public scrutiny is essential to counter the unique threats posed by these programs of broad-scale surveillance." Documents obtained by EPIC about the FBI's use of license plate readers showed the agency failed to address the system's privacy implications.

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