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Groups Criticize Digital Storage of License Plate Records - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Groups Criticize Digital Storage of License Plate Records

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Police departments across the country are using automated license plate scanners to keep an eye on drivers. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which released a report saying police are storing millions of digital records using the scanners, is not happy about it, and says it's another example of big brother watching. 

Charlottesville police say data the scanners collect is stored, but for how long depends on the jurisdiction. The ACLU says records that are not tied to an investigation should be deleted immediately, rather than weeks or years later. 

The Charlottesville Police Department has one car with the technology, which it has been using for years for investigations and to detect stolen cars. 

"We've recovered a number of cars that have been reported stolen - some locally, some from outside the state," said Lieutenant Ronnie Roberts, spokesperson for the Charlottesville Police Department. 

The license plate data is stored in their system for about 30 days, then erased. And police say the numbers are not released to outside sources. 

The Albemarle County Police Department has one license plate reader, or LPR. Albemarle police say it's used as an investigative tool to locate stolen vehicles, vehicles wanted in an Amber Alert or vehicles associated with other crimes.

In an e-mail Carter Johnson, public information officer with the Albemarle County Police Department, wrote, "Like other police departments, the ACPD uses this technology as another tool to combat and solve crimes in our community."

The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties watchdog group in Charlottesville, has concerns about the information collected. President John Whitehead says the scanners are stepping on a citizens' Fourth Amendment rights. 

"My concern would be that it doesn't disappear, no. So, I hear those kind of things, I hear what local police are saying, but my fear is it's actually going into a federal database," Whitehead said. 

Charlottesville police say there is no need for the public to worry about information being compromised. 

"It's only the license plate number that we are collecting and not your identity or anything of that sort," Roberts said. 

Charlottesville police say they can only speak for their department, and that every police department might store the information for a different amount of time.

The ACLU says in the report that stricter rules are needed for the scanners.

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