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ACLU Wants Details on License Plate Readers

Civil liberties group says it supports the technology but has privacy concerns about how the long the collected information is stored.

Information collected by police through the use of automatic license plate readers could lead to violations of privacy, according to lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union.

The civil liberties group Monday said in a statement that it had filed a public information request with local and state law enforcement agencies in 35 states seeking details on how long the data is stored.

"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 Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, in a statement. "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."

There are more than 320 such devices in use in Maryland. More than 43 percent of those are connected to the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center which used to be tasked with tracking just terrorist activities but now has an expanded role in all crimes, according to the ACLU.

The civil liberties group claims that a private company working for the state of Maryland has scanned more 300,000 license plates since 2005.

"It is unknown how long the location and movements of people in Maryland are stored. Additional provisions stating that the data will not be stored or used in ways that violate federal or state law are completely meaningless, according to the ACLU, because there are currently no meaningful restrictions on the collection, storage, and dissemination of that data," according to the ACLU statement.

"We do not object to using ALPR technology to instantly compare plates against external databases in real time, such as databases of stolen or wanted vehicles, and alerting officers if there is a match," said David Rocah, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, in the statement. "But the technology also allows for the ALPR data to be stored indefinitely, in ever growing databases, creating an increasingly comprehensive picture of our locations and movements, which raises significant privacy concerns. That is precisely what Maryland seems to be claiming the state is doing."

In September 2011,  for robbing banks in four states. Shanaberger was arrested in Woodbine after a Howard County police officer using a license plate reader determined that the car Shanaberger was sleeping in had been reported stolen, the Howard County Times reported.

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