Police Disclose Automatic License Plate Reader “Surveillance Records” to Local Civil Liberties Activist

Pasadena News Now


Published : Wednesday, November 1, 2017 | 5:08 AM

A local civil liberties activist claims the Pasadena Police Department has listed 20 records of his vehicle’s plate number being scanned by police Automatic License Plate Readers while either parked or driving on Pasadena streets during the one-year period ending September 30.

Ed Washatka earlier this month sent a California Public Records Act request to the Pasadena Police Department through his lawyer, Dale Gronemeier, to get a record of how the Pasadena Police Department’s license plate reader system has observed his personal vehicle for the past year, specifically between October 1, 2016 and September 30, 2017.

Washatka said he made the request to see how “extensive this Pasadena Police Department surveillance technology monitors ordinary citizens.”

In a statement Tuesday, Gronemeier said the police department on Monday released records containing “20 surveillance records” on Washatka’s vehicle in response to the request. Among other things, Gronemeier noted there was a remarkable increase in the number of ALPR records on the vehicle between April and March this year.

“While the overall annual averages was one surveillance record every 18 days, during a peak period in March-April 2017, the average had a 300 percent spike to one surveillance record every six days,” Gronemeier said. “The surveillance records characteristically include the license plate number, the date, the time, and the location of every ALPR scan.”

Six of the scans of Washatka’s vehicle were not tagged with the longitude and latitude data.

Over the years, although not all their vehicles carry the system, Pasadena police have repeatedly recovered stolen cars and arrested numerous suspects because of their ALPR system.

In the same statement, Washatka said he does not have a problem with the police using the ALPR scanner to obtain “surveillance records” of a stolen auto, a suspect in an active investigation, or other specific law-enforcement activities. What he sees as a problem, he says, is the police department’s two-year retention policy for ALPR records.

According to official Pasadena Police policy and procedures, “The Pasadena Police Department is to utilize Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) technology to capture and store digital license plate data and images while recognizing the established privacy rights of the public.”

The policy goes on to state, “It is used by the Pasadena Police Department to convert data associated with vehicle license plates for official law enforcement purposes, including identifying stolen or wanted vehicles, stolen license plates and missing persons. It may also be used to gather information related to active warrants, electronic surveillance homeland security, suspect interdiction and stolen property recovery.”

Washatka said the Pasadena Police Department “needs to promptly use ALPR surveillance records for legitimate law enforcement purposes” but should not retain the records beyond their intended use.

“The retention of a massive database on the movements of residents shows the same disrespect for resident privacy as does the City’s contract with Spokeo that brings to it a massive database of unreliable social media information about residents,” Washatka continued.

Gronemeier also attached a list of what he said were police records of the ALPR scans on Washatka’s vehicle, showing the dates and specific times. He said the data collected came from six different Pasadena police units.

Analyzing the data, Gronemeier said 14 of the scans were made during daylight hours and six were done at night or in the evening. Eleven of the scans were done when the vehicle was parked, he said, and 2 parked scans were in front of Washatka’s house.

As reported by on October 26, 2017 by Pasadena Now, Laurie Levenson, professor of law at Loyola Law School, said it’s not a violation of the 4th Amendment, however, “The real question is not whether or not it’s permissible under the 4th amendment to see this information, the question is what they’re going to do with it.

“Ordinarily,” Levenson continued, “we expect law enforcement to be protecting us against crimes, and then trying to solve crimes. We worry if the government just starts collecting a lot of information on everybody and what they’ll be using it for and that’s a separate issue. That can be addressed by legislators or people who run the department, saying how they’re going to use the information. So even if the 4th amendment allows them to collect it, I’m not sure it’s a great idea for them to do so, or be able to use it for any purpose.”