The Danger of License Plate Readers in Post-Roe America


“It’s a big problem that people share data without being really deliberate about who they share it with and why,” says Dave Maass, principal investigator at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Maass points out that police are not the only ones who could use ALPR data to track people seeking access to abortion. Thanks to the passage of Texas Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), it says anti-abortion groups could use enrollment data in litigation against entire sectors of people. This law allows anyone in the United States to sue abortion providers, anyone who “helps or encourages” someone seeking an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected (usually around six weeks), or anyone with the intent of helping someone get an illegal abortion in the state. . It is also known that anti-abortion groups have written down people’s enrollment numbers at abortion clinics over the years, Maass points out, so they may even have a database of enrollment numbers at their willingness to be able to search.

“One of the things that worries me is this large private database that is managed by DRN Data. It’s not necessarily law enforcement, but individual actors who might be trying to enforce abortion laws under things like the SB 8 of Texas, ”says Maass.

DRN Data operates a license plate reader database that receives its data from repo trucks and other ALPR-equipped vehicles. (DNR Data has not yet responded to WIRED’s request for comment.) Regardless of who operates them, there is no shortage of license plate scanners, and both Maass and Stanley say it would be extremely difficult for someone looking for a abortion avoid being monitored along the way.

“You can take an Uber, but that will create a different data trail. You could rent a car, but that’s a different data route. You could go on the bus, but that’s a different data path,” Maass says.

One policy change that could help address this issue is whether states would adopt the same type of legislation that New Hampshire has, Stanley says. Its statute states that “ALPR data” shall not be recorded or transmitted anywhere and shall be removed from the system within three minutes of its capture, unless the number has given rise to an arrest, summons or protective custody or a vehicle that was the subject is identified “. issuance of a missing or wanted person. ”This type of law would prevent police departments from retaining data that could be used for long periods.

Like abortion laws, ALPR regulations vary from state to state. New Hampshire doesn’t store that data for long, but Arkansas, which last month criminalized almost all abortion care, allows the data to be stored for 150 days. Other states may limit the storage of tuition data to 21 to 90 days. Georgia, whose law would ban abortions after the detection of fetal cardiac activity, allows police to store enrollment data for up to 30 months after collection. Maass says these issues will have to be addressed across the country.

“Lawmakers need to look at this. Law enforcement needs to talk to members of their council about how they will address this,” Maass says. “Advocates general who claim they will protect access to abortion need to look at their data systems. Much of this will have to be addressed in a political context.”

ALPRs are just one of many surveillance tools that police departments and anti-abortion groups will have at their disposal, but they will become one of the most powerful tools available if states make it illegal to cross state borders. to get an abortion. For states seeking to safeguard access to abortion care, there is little time to assess how this technology is used and whether policies need to be modified to limit its use.



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