Los Angeles cops do not need to hand over license plate reader data, judge finds

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This LAPD patrol car is equipped with a LPR unit, mounted just in front of the light bar on the roof of the vehicle.
Steve Devol

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge will not force local law enforcement to release a week’s worth of all captured automated license plate reader (ALPR, also known as LPR) data to two activist groups that had sued for the release of the information, according to adecision issued on Thursday.

In May 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation sued the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) in an attempt to compel the agencies to release a week’s worth of LPR data from a certain week in August 2012. The organizations have not determined yet whether they will file an appeal.

The organizations had claimed that these agencies were required to disclose the data under the California Public Records Act. In late July 2012, the ACLU and its affiliates sent requests to local police departments and state agencies across 38 states to request information on how LPRs are used.

“The [LPR] data contains hot list comparisons, the disclosure of which could greatly harm a criminal investigation,” Superior Court Judge James Chalfantwrote in his 18-page decision. “It also would reveal patrol patterns which could compromise ongoing investigations, and even fixed point data could undermine investigations. Disclosure could also be used by a criminal to find and harm a third party. Balanced against these harms is the interest in ascertaining law enforcement abuse of the ALPR system and a general understanding of the picture law enforcement receives of an individual from the system, unsupported by any evidence as to how well the ALPR data will show this information. The balancing works in favor of non-disclosure.”

Ruthann Robson, a professor of constitutional law at the City University of New York, told Ars that she found the judge’s analysis to be “well-reasoned.”

Written by Cyrus Farivar
Read more at Arstechnia

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