Category: Law Enforcement

NOPD Finally has a Policy on License Plate Tracking Technology Use

In December 2012 I noted that NOPD had no stated policy regarding its use or retention of data gathered through license plate scanners. Then, in July 2013, I noted that the ACLU had released a nationwide study on law enforcement use of the technology. The results of the study were not very encouraging if you are concerned about privacy and transparency.

Well, I am happy to announce that I recently discovered that NOPD finally has a policy! Policy 462 of the New Orleans Police Department Policy Manual of December 15, 2014 covers Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR). The policy begins on page 376 of the PDF if you want to read the entire policy, and also picks back up on page 891.

Some highlights:

  • The technology can only be used for official and legitimate law enforcement purposes.
  • In the event of any real-time alerts generated by the technology, officers are urged to verify the validity of the alert before taking enforcement actions.
  • Access to data gathered by the system is controlled.

Some concerns:

  1. Under the policy, data is allowed to remain on the reader for 30 days, and once downloaded to the main server it is retained for up to 180 days (6 months) unless the data is identified as evidence or subject to records requests.
  2. The policy allows for all data to be shared with other law enforcement agencies.
  3. The policy also mentions that images are gathered but treats them the same as other license plate-only data that is gathered.
  4. The policy does not include any public reporting of the use of the technology beyond what is mentioned in the policy.

I am concerned about #1 because data could be stored for 7 months under this policy. It is impossible to know if this is too long of a retention period absent further information from NOPD that retaining info for up to 7 months is necessary. I am of the opinion that the shortest possible retention periods are to be preferred.

Number 2 concerns me because the policy does not specify any limitations on sharing data with other agencies other than the requirement that it be for legitimate law enforcement purposes. The policy should require that the agency shared with also maintain a policy of short retention periods and controlled access.

Concern #3 could be addressed by a clarification of how images are stored, what they are used for, and the extent of detail included in images. Are we talking headshots of drivers and passengers, or just images of the vehicle surrounding the license plate?

Finally, #4 concerns me because while the policy requires regular internal audits, it does not allow the public to know how much data is gathered, how many crimes are solved with the data, how long data should be stored for, how many false alerts are generated, or primary neighborhoods the technology is deployed in, etc.. The ACLU recommends at least an annual public reporting, and I’m happy to agree with that at the moment.

In any event, I am pleased to finally see a written policy on the use of license plate scanners. This is a good first step in transparency and privacy, but it should be just that: a first step.

Marijuana Legalization Progressing in Louisiana?

Tomorrow, January 21, 2014 in the Louisiana House of Representatives, at the request of Rep. Dalton Honore the Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice will hold a hearing to request a study on the feasibility of legalizing marijuana use and possession. I have to admit I am very (pleasantly) surprised they’re even talking about it. I’m not going to get my hopes up, but at least the conversation is progressing.

The link to the committee agenda is here.

Upcoming Events

The Loyola Law School chapter of The Federalist Society will be hosting a couple noteworthy speakers in the next few weeks.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013:

Baylen Linnekin, the man responsible for the recently filed lawsuit against the Bloomberg Administration to force New York City to disclose information about its food policymaking, Reason Magazine contributor and executive director of Keep Food Legal, a Washington, D.C. non-profit that advocates in favor of everyone’s right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the foods of their own choosing. Linnekin will be speaking about food freedom. Also, Andrew Legrand, attorney for the New Orleans Food Truck Coalition, will be on hand to talk about the work the NOFTC did to reform NOLA food truck ordinances earlier this year.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013:

Radley Balko, senior writer for Huffington Post and author of the new book, Rise of the Warrior Cop. Balko is an award-winning investigative journalist who focuses on civil liberties and the criminal justice system and will be speaking about the increasing militarization of America’s police forces.

Both events will be held from 12:30-1:30 pm in room 306 in the Loyola Law School building, 526 Pine St., NOLA 70118.

 

License Plate Tracking Update

Back in December I noted that NOPD has no stated policy for their usage and retention of data gathered through its use of license plate scanners. I was alarmed at this, but haven’t had much time to pursue it further.

Fortunately, the ACLU shares my concerns. Today, the ACLU released a report that analyzes the results of a nation-wide study on law enforcement policies of using and retaining data acquired by these scanners. The results are not good for privacy concerns.

New Orleans or Louisiana are not specifically mentioned in the study, but I intend to restart this project and attempt to get the Independent Police Monitor involved in the next couple of months. As I stated in December, “All I want to know is exactly what NOPD uses this data for and how long they keep it. I don’t think that’s asking too much.”

Stay tuned!

Our Policy Is We Have No Policy

Those are the words reported to me this week by NOPD relayed through the New Orleans City Attorney’s office in response to my public records request from July. Yes, July. Never mind that the Louisiana public records law requires documents to be produced in 3 days. That’s not the big issue here though.

In case you missed it this summer, there was a story about a burglary suspect who was caught as a result of an NOPD vehicle that is able to scan license plates and run them through a computer while driving.

According to Uptown Messenger’s reporting:

“The reader, affixed to a normal patrol car, automatically scans the license plates it passes and checks to make sure they aren’t on stolen cars, but it also maintains a geographical database of the tags it passes.”

Overall I have no issue with the technology. But it’s that last line that got my attention because of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, United States v. Jones. As a result of that decision I seriously wonder if NOPD could have some major 4th Amendment problems with their use and/or storage of the license plate data they collect.

So, I requested the full NOPD policy regarding the use and storage of data associated with any and all departmental vehicle license plate scanners. The city attorney’s response:

“Please be advised that the Police Department has informed our office that no such record exists.”

This terse, 4 1/5 month late response will certainly not be the end of this. All I want to know is exactly what NOPD uses this data for and how long they keep it. I don’t think that’s asking too much.