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

July 30, 2012
CONTACT: Baylor Johnson, 786-363-2720;

MIAMI – The ACLU of Florida today sent requests to police departments in Miami-Dade County, Duval County, Tampa, and the City of Miami demanding information on how they use automatic license plate readers (ALPR) to track and record Americans’ movements. Similar requests, made as part of a nationwide effort to find out more about automatic plate readers, were also made to state and local law enforcement agencies in 37 states around the country by American Civil Liberties Union affiliates.

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.

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 provide the technology that can pose a threat to American’s privacy, secretly monitoring and collecting the movements of every motorist who encounters the system,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida. “We want to make sure that there are local ordinances or police protocols that govern how the police will be cataloging and using the information the readers collect since much of it can be sensitive and personal to each of us, such as our visits to doctors’ offices, churches, and counseling meetings.”

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 department’s 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.

“ALPRs serve as a tracking tool that could monitor each and every one of us with no evidence of wrongdoing,” said ACLU staff attorney Julie Ebenstein. “The use of trackers is expanding and we want to document how widespread it actually is to consider limitations to the collection, retention, and sharing of our travel information.”

For more information about the ACLU's work on license plate readers, visit: