UPDATE: July 25, 2012 - After first adopting an amendment from Commissioner Amanda Fritz to require the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) to report back to Council on an annual basis about their use of Automatic License Plate Recognition cameras (ALPR), the Portland City Council this morning approved PPB’s request to add a new SUV to their fleet with an ALPR.
Explanation from officers helped the Council to understand a bit more detail about PPB’s past and current use of ALPRs. Including the camera that will be installed on the new SUV, the PPB has four ALPR cameras. They began using the technology in 2011 and it has been primarily used to look for stolen and abandoned cars, though it has also been used to find vehicles used in crimes. Only a limited number of officers have access to the ALPR database and the database records who logs in and what searches they conduct. The data that is collected, that does not make a distinction between plates that generate “hits” and plates of innocent people, are held by the police for up to four years.
We certainly appreciate the opportunity to understand a bit more about the PPB’s current use of ALPRs in Portland. The existence of a policy to monitor this use and protect privacy is important. We understand that some of that policy was revised recently to address some of the ACLU’s concerns. At the same time, we continue to caution against the use of a tool that enables search of a person’s information without any suspicion that the person has committed a crime. We hope that the Council is considering this issue and we continue to urge for a policy that prohibits storing information collected from innocent people.
July 24, 2012 - The Portland Police Bureau heads to City Council Wednesday morning for authorization to add a new SUV to its fleet and install an Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) camera on the new vehicle. ALPRs are the latest in government surveillance technology, enabling the Bureau to capture images from thousands of vehicle license plates per minute and check them against agency databases or manually entered license plate numbers for "hits." In doing so, ALPRs provide yet another way for the government to amass endless data about the daily, innocent comings and goings of law-abiding Oregonians.
In testimony to the Council, the ACLU is requesting that the Portland Police Bureau provide more detail to the Commissioners and to the public both about their current use of ALPRs and how that use might increase or change with the new SUV. Without any suspicion that an individual has committed a crime, ALPRs are used to search agency databases for his or her information. At the very least, clear policies and regulations must be put in place to prohibit storing or recording data where there is no match to an offender list or evidence of wrongdoing.