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License-Plate Scanners: Are the Cops Tracking You?

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By Deanne Katz, Esq. on August 21, 2012 6:49 AM

Federal and state governments are using license-plate scanners to monitor cars on the road but is that legal?

The ACLU isn't so sure it is and they've launched an investigation into how states are using and storing the information.

License-plate scanners are automated readers that photograph your license plate and send that information to law enforcement. Officials say the information is used to deal with crime, reports U.S. News.

The real issue is how long they're keeping that information.

The ACLU is concerned that law enforcement isn't using this information responsibly and is instead keeping tabs on our movement for months or years.

If police are maintaining a large database of innocent people's activity the public has a right to know that, according to Dane Claussen, Executive Director of ACLU Las Vegas.

So far there isn't any clear trend on how long states are keeping the information.

Maryland police only keep the information for 24 hours and then release it to a federal 'fusion center' where it can stay for up to a year, reports Time. New Mexico keeps it for six months, according to U.S. News.

Recording license plates isn't necessarily illegal. At this point there is no legal expectation of privacy when you're driving in public. But that rule is based on the idea that police can't track where cars go over time.

If license-plate scanners become more-widely used, police could effectively have a way to track where a given license plate goes over the course of a month or a year.

The use of license-plate scanners doesn't break any laws yet but the ACLU is hoping to get statutes and regulations on the books. Their goal is to limit the use of these tools and the amount of time information can be stored in order to protect individual privacy, as stated on their website.

Just because there is no law against it doesn't mean it will remain legal. License-plate scanners may end up the subject of strict regulations after the ACLU investigation.

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