ACLU concerned automatic license plate readers may invade privacy

The ACLU is raising concern over what happens to red light camera data in the long run. The organization thinks how the pictures are used down the road could be an invasion of privacy.

The cameras, known as automatic license plate readers, snap pictures of every vehicle in their line of sight, and now the ACLU wants to know whether that constitutes an unnecessary violation of privacy.

ACLU Attorney David Rocah said, "Every time an automated license plate camera reads our license plate it's also stamped with the date and time and GPS of where we were or are at a particular time."

Police check the plates instantly to see if any of them belong to criminals.

However, the ACLU wants to know how long the government is keeping the data, who has access to it and whether authorities keep it for suspected criminals or for everyone.{ }

"That creates significant privacy concerns. The government has no business keeping records of where we were, where we traveled without a legitimate law enforcement need," Rocah explained.

The Maryland State Police Department began using the technology in 2005 and says it only keeps the information for 24 hours. The data is then transferred to an analysis center, which keeps it for a year unless it is connected to a police investigation.

"The license plate reader is checking 15-100 tags a minute or more. It checks for wanted persons, fugitives, violent gang members...that efficiency of work cannot be completed any other way right now," said Maryland State Police Department spokesman Greg Shipley.

State police say the technology has helped to fight crime, adding that even officers have very limited access to the database.

The ACLU filed information requests with police departments in 35 different states, including Maryland and Virginia. The are now waiting for other departments to respond.