It's requested information from 27 police agencies.
The American Civil Liberties Union has concerns about a new form of technology being used by law enforcement. It's the automatic license plate reader, which snaps pictures of license plates as vehicles come within its field of view. They're mounted on police cars, or on stationary objects like utility poles and underneath bridges.
The ACLU says it has no objections to police collecting this data, and comparing it with other databases to determine, for example, if a car has been reported stolen. "The concern that we have is whether this data is being created everytime the camera takes a picture and stores the data, and is being stored long term," says Maryland ACLU staff attorney David Rocah.
He says keeping this information for a long period of time brings up privacy concerns. "If the data is being stored, it will create an ever more detailed picture of the locations and movements of Marylanders, raising, in our view, significant privacy concerns," he says.
If the police have collected this information and are not planning to use it, it should be destroyed, says Rocah.
The ACLU is requesting 27 police agencies across the state to provide them with information on how they use these automatic license plates readers, and what they do with the information. Among the agencies receiving requests are the Frederick Police Department, the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, the Washington County Sheriff's Office, the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, and Montgomery County Police. This request is also going out to the Maryland State Police, Natural Resources Police, Maryland Transportation Authority Police and Maryland Transit Administration Police. "This is part of a national effort by the ACLU to get information about the use of this technology, which has occurred largely under the radar," he says.
ACLU chapters in 34 other states have sent out similar requests.
He says so far, no abuses have occurred regarding this information collected by police. "But Maryland has touted the server and the fusion center as the first statewide repository of data in the country," says Rocah. "Our concern, both locally and nationally, is that trend will continue and that's what we're seeking to get information about."
The ACLU says there are currently 320 automatic license plate readers being used across Maryland, and they're linked to the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center, often known as the "fusion center," where all the data is stored indefinitely.
The Maryland State Police began using automatic license plate readers in 2004 to track terrorists, but that was expanded in 2007 to all crimes, says the ACLU in a statement.