Private companies know where you've been, thanks to license plate cameras

Posted on 02-27-2015 by
Tags: Privacy , Latest Headlines & Stories

Do you ever wish you could take yourself off the grid? I think we all wish we could have a small amount of time where we couldn’t be traced somehow. Between tracking systems in cellphone and street corner cameras, it’s nearly impossible for people not to know where we are. Well for those who yearn for that true alone time, I have unfortunate news for you, according to , thanks to license plate cameras, private companies will be able to know where you've been.

Your records meet Big Data's First Amendment Right

When it comes to laws regulating who can collect license plate data and what can be done with it, hardly any exist.

However when big data businesses fight back, they are fighting back with lawyers and an unusual weapon: the First Amendment. Their argument: Because license plate data starts as a snapshot taken place on a public street, your records are their right.

Digital Recognition Network (DRN), the largest private database of license plate records serves private industry, but also collects data that's used by law enforcement. Vigilant Solutions, DRN’s sister company, provides license plate technology and data to law enforcement.

DRN has contracts with five-hundred fifty companies search the streets across the nation with car-mounted, fast-action cameras.

DRN has had cases against the state of Utah and Arkansas. In both cases the states filed First Amendment lawsuits. The Utah suit was eventually dismissed while the DRN is still fighting in federal court against Arkansas.

"The whole notion that there is a privacy concern ... is just not valid," said Brian Shockley, Vigilant's vice president for marketing. "It's not a people. It's a license plate. It's not connected to personal information, at all."

A few keystrokes and a stranger knows you

According to the article a demo of Transunion’s top-of-the-line search illustrated how fast it is for a stranger to learn almost anything about you.

“Type in one name. Up pops a map of where your car has been spotted over the course of the past three months. Mouse over the location and the map tells you what each place is. A few more mouse clicks show your phone numbers, email addresses, social media accounts and home addresses. Yet another few taps on the keyboard and there is social network work map, showing you, your family members, spouses, friends, acquaintances.”

License plate data was added to TransUnion’s list of available searches a year ago when it purchased the company TLO.

David Blumberg, TransUnion's spokesman, said only law enforcement or other "credentialed customers" can access reports with the license plate data. The list of “credentialed customers” includes private detectives, lawyers, people who work at mortgage companies, people who work at insurance companies, people who work in risk management and people who work in fraud detection.

At the moment, license plate data is not restricted by federal law, however the access to driver’s license data is. Blumberg said that, for now, TransUnion is voluntarily applying the same restrictions to license plate data.

Federal legislation has focused only on limiting law enforcement and government use of license plate readers. While this has received little traction, it could still have life down the road.


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