SAN FRANCISCO—California Attorney General Rob Bonta should crack down on police agencies that still violate Californians’ privacy by sharing automated license plate reader information with out-of-state government agencies, putting abortion seekers and providers at particular risk, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the state’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) affiliates urged in a letter to Bonta today.
In October 2023, Bonta issued a legal interpretation and guidance clarifying that a 2016 state law, SB 34, prohibits California’s local and state police from sharing information collected from automated license plate readers (ALPR) with out-of-state or federal agencies. However, despite the Attorney General’s definitive stance, dozens of law enforcement agencies have signaled their intent to continue defying the law.
The EFF and ACLU letter lists 35 specific police agencies which either have informed the civil liberties organizations that they plan to keep sharing ALPR information with out-of-state law enforcement, or have failed to confirm their compliance with the law in response to inquiries by the organizations.
“We urge your office to explore all potential avenues to ensure that state and local law enforcement agencies immediately comply,” the letter said. “We are deeply concerned that the information could be shared with agencies that do not respect California’s commitment to civil rights and liberties and are not covered by California’s privacy protections.”
ALPR systems collect and store location information about drivers, including dates, times, and locations. This sensitive information can reveal where individuals work, live, associate, worship, or seek reproductive health services and other medical care. Sharing any ALPR information with out-of-state or federal law enforcement agencies has been forbidden by the California Civil Code since enactment of SB 34 in 2016.
And sharing this data with law enforcement in states that criminalize abortion also undermines California’s extensive efforts to protect reproductive health privacy, especially a 2022 law (AB 1242) prohibiting state and local agencies from providing abortion-related information to out-of-state agencies. The UCLA Center on Reproductive Health, Law and Policy estimates that between 8,000 and 16,100 people will travel to California each year for reproductive care.
An EFF investigation involving hundreds of public records requests uncovered that many California police departments continued sharing records containing residents’ detailed driving profiles with out-of-state agencies. EFF and the ACLUs of Northern and Southern California in March 2023 wrote to more than 70 such agencies to demand they comply with state law. While many complied, many others have not.
“We appreciate your office’s statement on SB 34 and your efforts to protect the privacy and civil rights of everyone in California,” today’s letter said. “Nevertheless, it is clear that many law enforcement agencies continue to ignore your interpretation of the law by continuing to share ALPR information with out-of-state and federal agencies. This violation of SB 34 will continue to imperil marginalized communities across the country, and abortion seekers, providers, and facilitators will be at greater risk of undue criminalization and prosecution.”
For the letter to Bonta: https://www.eff.org/document/01-31-2024-letter-california-ag-rob-bonta-re-enforcing-sb34-alprs
For the letters sent last year to noncompliant California police agencies: https://www.eff.org/press/releases/civil-liberties-groups-demand-california-police-stop-sharing-drivers-location-data
For information on how ALPRs threaten abortion access: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2022/09/automated-license-plate-readers-threaten-abortion-access-heres-how-policymakers
For general information about ALPRs: https://sls.eff.org/technologies/automated-license-plate-readers-alprs