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The ACLU Wants More Restrictions On License Plate Data

OPB | Dec. 4, 2013 12:06 p.m. | Updated: Dec. 5, 2013 8:41 a.m.

Portland police car (via Squid Vicious/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Portland police car (via Squid Vicious/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Portland police are among an increasing number of law enforcement agencies in Oregon who are using automatic license plate readers on patrol cars. The police bureau has cameras mounted on 16 of its patrol cars. Those cameras collect the license plates of the cars they pass. The program started as a way to cut down on car theft. Lieutenant John Scruggs, who oversees the license plate program, says it has been very effective in catching criminals and recovering stolen vehicles.

Scruggs says the data is not used unless there is a criminal investigation, and it’s destroyed after four years.  Nevertheless, some civil liberties advocates have concerns about the program. Becky Straus with the ACLU of Oregon, says one of those concerns is about how else the data might be used. She says fundamentally, this is data that’s being collected on innocent citizens who are essentially being surveilled. The ACLU of Oregon wants to see changes to state law in the next legislative session that will set standards for all agencies in Oregon who use automatic license plate readers.

What questions do you have about the license plate program?

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