New York tracks you by your license plate – and keeps it

According to an item in USA Today, counties in New York State not only snap pictures of your license plate, but keep them in a database with date-time and location information.

The data is accessible by police throughout the state as well has the Department of Homeland Security.

If you take a bunch of pictures of your license plate at different times, you can piece together a picture of where you go, what you do and who you connect with.

I suspect that the courts will say that when you are out and about you have no reasonable expectation of privacy.  You and I might view it differently, but I doubt the courts will.

Here is the interesting part of this.  While the cameras can be used to ferret out stolen cars, wanted people and expired license plates, that group, collectively, probably represents 1/100th of 1 percent of the pictures taken.  The rest are people going out about their daily business, not committing a crime and being watched.

There is no central database;  each county does their own thing and there are no statewide rules about it.

Here is a little data:

  • Monroe, Albany, Westchester and New York City keep the data for 5 years.
  • The New York State Police keeps the data for 5 years also.  They have 140 cameras.
  • Erie and Onondaga counties keep the data for 1 year.
  • Monroe county had 3.7 million snapshots as of last week
  • Onondaga county had 5.2 million as of a couple of weeks ago
  • Albany county, where the state capital is, had 37 million pictures
  • Erie county said they have the capacity to store 12 million pictures and plan to add more storage.
  • Most agencies declined to say how many pictures they had.

In a sense, this is like the NSA – no rules, no watchdogs, no transparency – just trust us.

To me, that doesn’t seem like a really good plan – just saying!

 

 

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