Home News The Danger of License Plate Readers in Post-Roe America

The Danger of License Plate Readers in Post-Roe America


Motorola Solutions did not respond to a request for comment before publication.

ALPR is more concentrated in metropolitan areas, but is also common in rural areas, Stanley said. If someone had an out-of-state abortion, police could repeatedly determine where and when their license plates were scanned during the trip. Armed with this information, they might be able to sketch out that person’s travel patterns. Police don’t need a warrant to get this information because license plates are public and anyone can see it, which isn’t necessarily the case when police want to get someone’s location data from their phone or use other tracking methods.

“The denser the ALPR scanners are, the more they act like GPS tracking,” Stanley said.

Once an abortion seeker has left the state, police departments can look up license plate data in another state through private databases, or they can access the data through that state’s police department. Police departments across the country regularly share ALPR data with each other, and the sharing of this data is often done with little oversight.

Dave Maass, director of investigations at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said: “It’s a huge problem that people aren’t really thinking about who they’re sharing their data with and why they’re sharing it.”

Police aren’t the only ones who can use ALPR data to track abortion-seekers, Maass noted. Thanks to the passage of Texas Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), he said anti-abortion groups could use license plate data in lawsuits against entire populations. The law allows anyone in the U.S. to sue an abortion provider, anyone who “aids or abets” seeking an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected (usually about six weeks) — or anyone who intends to help someone receive an illegal abortion in the state. Maass Point out that over the years, anti-abortion groups have also recorded people’s license plate numbers at abortion clinics, so they might even have a database of license plate numbers that they can search.

“One of the things I’m concerned about is this large private database run by DRN Data. Not necessarily law enforcement, but individual actors who might be trying to enforce abortion laws under things like SB 8 in Texas,” Maas said .

DRN Data operates a database of license plate readers that receive data from buyback trucks and other ALPR-equipped vehicles. (DNR Data has not responded to WIRED’s request for comment.) No matter who operates them, license plate scanners are in abundance, and both Maass and Stanley say abortion seekers are hard to avoid being watched. method.

“You can take an Uber, but that creates a different data trail. You can rent a car, but that’s a different data path. You can take a bus, but it’s a different data path,” Maass said.

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