LINCOLN — A civil liberties group wants to know if Nebraska and Iowa law enforcement agencies are using new technology to track and record drivers’ movements.
Nebraska and Iowa affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union are among 38 state affiliates that requested information from local police departments and state agencies Monday about automatic license plate readers.
Plate readers are cameras mounted on patrol cars or stationary objects along the road that snap a photograph of every license plate that passes by.
Images of the plates, along with the time, date and location, are recorded and transmitted to a database.
Alerts then go out to officers when a plate matches one being looked for by law enforcement.
Amy Miller, legal director for ACLU of Nebraska, said the concern is not about snapping photos and looking for stolen vehicles or criminal suspects.
It’s about what agencies are doing with data collected on the general driving public.
“Tracking and recording people’s movements raises serious privacy concerns because where we go can reveal a great deal about us, including visits to doctor’s offices, political meetings and friends,” Miller said.
“We need legal protections to limit the collection, retention and sharing of our travel information,” she said, “and we need these rules right away.”
ACLU of Nebraska sent letters to the Omaha and Lincoln Police Departments and the Nebraska State Patrol.
Miller said those agencies were chosen because they are the largest in the state. She said she did not know if any of the three use the plate readers.
The Omaha Police Department does, according to a 2009 World-Herald report. The department bought two systems that year using about $60,000 in federal grant funds. One camera was installed on the north side of the city and one on the south.
At the time, Todd Schmaderer, then the Omaha Police Department’s southwest precinct captain, said the system did not raise privacy concerns because it recognizes only license numbers entered in the National Crime Information Center.
He also said the readers did not record information about drivers or occupants of the vehicles.