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California Attorney General Issues Memo Prohibiting Out-of-State Sharing of ALPR Data

by Anthony W. Accurso

Rob Bonta, the Attorney General for the state of California, issued a memo to law enforcement agencies in the state, which interprets SB 34 and forbids them from sharing with out-of-state agencies data collected from automated license plate readers (“ALPRs”).

ALPRs are controversial. They record license plate numbers as a vehicle passes a camera, mounted on a traffic light, highway sign, or a patrol vehicle. The license plate number is paired with a timestamp and a location, which can be used to infer that the vehicle’s owner was in a particular place at that time. This implicates privacy concerns, especially when a woman from a state with abortion restrictions travels to California. But California agencies have been collecting this data and sharing it with hundreds of out-of-state agencies, including U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (“CBP”) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”).

The California state Legislature passed SB 34 in 2015, requiring basic safeguards for the use of ALPRs, which includes a prohibition on California agencies from sharing data with non-California agencies.

Since then, the ACLU of California, MuckRock News, and the Center for Human Rights and Privacy have used public records requests to demonstrate that many California agencies have either ignored or defied these policies, putting Californians and visitors at risk. In 2019, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (“EFF”) successfully lobbied the Legislature to order the California State Auditor to investigate the matter. The resulting report was damning, finding that agencies were flagrantly violating the law.

The EFF and ACLU followed up on the report by suing the Marin County Sheriff’s Office in 2021 over the agency’s sharing of data to CBP and ICE. The case was ultimately settled in favor of the plaintiffs. The Attorney General’s memo has arrived at a time when some agencies have finally begun to come around. It cites SB 34 as the basis for the guidance.

In the meantime, the EFF has sent letters to over 70 agencies, citing the favorable lawsuit and the memo. “Dozens have complied,” according to the EFF, and only time will tell what it will take to get the remaining agencies—who are tasked with upholding the law—to follow it themselves.


Source: Electronic Frontier Foundation



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