A civil rights group is concerned that a statewide database which tracks millions of images of license plates could potentially leave the door open for potential identity theft or other illegal uses.
South Carolina is one of several states that hold on to information gathered from license plate scanners used by law enforcement. The State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) keeps the license numbers and information on file for three years. The scanners are meant to help identify a vehicle previously reported stolen or spot a fugitive by tracking a license plate’s location at multiple points. They are usually placed on patrol cars or traffic cameras.
But the American Civil Liberties Union says the result is a massive database with millions of pieces of information from license plates and GPS locations. Executive director of the ACLU’s South Carolina chapter Victoria Middleton says such technology has its benefits but also gives law enforcement and others too much information.
“You can deduce a lot of very personal, private information about people from the movements revealed by license plate tracking,” she said. “For example, what doctors does a person go to? What friends do they visit? Where do they spend the night?”
Middleton said the database is for a good purpose, but she believes regulations and guidelines are needed if the state is going to take and hold this information.
But SLED chief Mark Keel said his agency already has stringent safeguards in place. “We have very tight guidelines in our policies and agencies, who has access to this information. It is very limited,” he told WSPA-TV in Spartanburg.
Middleton also reminds us that a regulated database still needs honest humans… especially those who have access to the information a database holds. Law enforcement and security experts who favor regulation and guidelines… are very well aware that there have been human operator abuses. So you have to have those controls in place.”
Sheree Bernardi of Charleston affiliate WTMA contributed to this report