Sheriff sued, forced to halt illegal data sharing program

A special interest organization that promotes awareness of – and application of – the 10th Amendment is delivering a lesson to Americans: Just having a law is not enough, it must be enforced.

It is the 10th Amendment Center where Mike Maharrey wrote on a blog post about a case in which the sheriff of Marian County, California, was sharing data from his Automatic License Plate Readers with other agencies.

Those computer systems read the license plates of all vehicles that pass certain points. They are then linked to their owner, and the data is widely used for purposes that include investigations into alleged crimes.

But the sheriff’s decision to pass along that information was illegal under state statute.

Simply having a law didn’t stop it, either.

The post explains, “Passing laws to limit government surveillance is an important first step, but activism can’t end there. Law enforcement agencies have to be monitored and people must take action to ensure such laws are enforced.”

He explained documents showed the sheriff’s office was sharing information from the ALPR system with the Department of Homeland Security, ICE and hundreds of other agencies.

So local activists sued Sheriff Robert Doyle for failing to apply a California state law passed in 2015 that requires agencies using ALPRs to implement policies to protect privacy and civil liberties.

The center report explained, “The law specifically prohibits police from sharing ALPR data with any entity outside the state of California. Sharing information with federal agencies enforcing federal immigration law also violates the ‘California Values Act.’ This law bars state and local law enforcement from using any resources to arrest, detain or hold people on behalf of immigration federal authorities in most situations.”

Now, the center report said, a settlement has been reached with Doyle that provides he will stop sharing ALPR data.

“While we are glad to have achieved the core goal of our lawsuit, we remain concerned that Sheriff Doyle violated these state laws for so long and with so little transparency,” said Lisa Bennett, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

“In light of this violation of public trust, we are calling on the Marin County Board of Supervisors to establish an oversight body to ensure continued accountability.”

The center explains the dangers from such data collection endeavors.

Millions of vehicles are tracked across the nation through data provided by ALPRs operated on a state and local level. They’re paid for by federal grant money. The DEA then taps into the local database to track the whereabouts of millions of people – for the “crime” of driving – without having to operate a huge network itself, the report said.

While billions of data points are assembled, the report said, “Perhaps more concerning, this gigantic sample of license plate scans reveals that 99.5 percent of this data was collected regardless of whether the vehicle or its owner were suspected of being involved in criminal activity.”

Further, agencies on average share their data with 160 other agencies.

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