Jun 2 2013

How Long Will Vehicle Photos Be in a Database?

In the fall of 2012, Wall Street Journal’s Julia Angwin reported on license plate-tracking technologies (license plate readers /LPRs), the use of the information gathered, and how long it stays in various databases.  One of the people she interviewed was Mike Katz-Lacabe in San Leandro, California.   “In 2010, Mr. Katz-Lacabe filed a California Public Records Act request for his data from the local police. He received a report containing 112 images of his vehicles dating to 2008.”

Angwin also interviewed San Leandro Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli, who told her the department plans to retain the photos indefinitely.  And in some rare circumstances at least, police have  used their LPRs illegitimately.  In 1998, according to surveyofone.com, a Washington, D.C. police lieutenant plead guilty to extortion after looking up the plates of vehicles near a gay bar and blackmailing the vehicle owners.

Origins of LPRs

But it was not police departments that first used the technology over wide regions.  It was repo guys, the automobile repossession agents who locate and tow cars that are being repossessed for non-payment of car loans.  Repossession agents have used their LPRs to photograph vehicles in cities and areas that still don’t have any public entity LPRs .  Solutions Today Final Notice & Recovery LLC tows an average 15 vehicles most nights covering the Maryland and Washington, D.C. region.

Most repossession agents’ upload their LPR photos to one of the national private databases. Vigilant Solutions has more than 700 million vehicle photos, license plates with location, time, and date in its national private LPR data base.  On its website it explains, “The National Vehicle Location Service (NVLS) is Vigilant’s National LPR Data Repository.  NVLS aggregates ANPR / ALPR data from various sources – law enforcement agencies, private systems for asset recovery and access control, and others.”

In the 1960’s LPRs began being used by police.  To photograph drivers violating red lights, cameras were installed at some intersections.  Using the resulting photos, the police issued tickets to the car’s owner and collected significant fines.  More recently, LPRs have been effective at locating and towing abandoned stolen cars and booting cars with multiple unpaid parking tickets.

Piedmonters have been assured by Police Chief Rikki Goede in public meetings presenting the LPR program that vehicle photos and data will only be retained for one year and that it will only be available to law enforcement agencies.

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