Blogging Bayport Alameda

January 23, 2014

Someone to watch over me

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:03 am

Didn’t want to be late to the frenzy over the prospects of Big Brother watching us.   The City will be hosting a public forum about the license plate readers so those of you who feel strongly about it one way or the other should attend the forum.   It won’t be until Monday, February 3 at 6:30 p.m. but might as well put in on your calendar now if you are interested.

In advance of the meeting the City has uploaded a draft policy about how license plate readers will be used, here is the section on data retention, which, to me, is probably the most important:

All data and images gathered by an ALPR are for the official use of the Alameda Police Department and because such data may contain confidential CLETS information, it is not open to public review. ALPR information gathered and retained by this department may be used and shared with prosecutors or others only as permitted by law.

The Identification Section Sergeant is responsible to ensure proper collection and retention of ALPR data, and for transferring ALPR data stored in department vehicles to the department server on a regular basis, not to exceed 30 days between transfers.

All ALPR data downloaded to the server should be stored for one year (Government Code § 34090.6), and thereafter may be purged unless it has become, or it is reasonable to believe it will become, evidence in a criminal or civil action or is subject to a lawful action to produce records. In those circumstances the applicable data should be downloaded from the server onto portable media and booked into evidence.

Piedmont, of course, is one city who has recently installed a bunch of cameras at the entrances to their city.  Naturally the Police Department who advocated for the cameras insist that they are working:

“We’ve made two stolen vehicle, auto theft arrests since they’ve been up,” Piedmont Police Chief Rikki Goede said.

Goede says Piedmont has seen a 30 percent increase in car theft in the past year and so far the cameras have helped deal with the problem



  1. Haven’t had a chance to read this entire article but I scanned and noticed it leads with complaint that in Oakland the focus has primarily been on suppressing activism not violent crime. If true that can be corrected.

    But…. I’m thinking the Express is going to decry the suppression of Black Bloc A-holes who have given Occupy Oakland a bad name not just locally but nationally. I think if we are in a public area we should be prepared to be surveilled. The microphone on utility poles which guide police to gunshots, do not and should not record conversation.

    I just read another piece discussing Hoover’s COINTELPRO comparing it to NSA. but can’t recall where :
    black bloc would like to think they are this high minded and principles:

    Comment by MI — January 23, 2014 @ 10:28 am

  2. I can’t help feeling that if Alameda PD announced that they were going to have officers roaming the streets writing down the license plates of every vehicle and where it was parked and creating a database that they would use to identify the location of people they had questions about, there would be an uproar. Essentially, the data storage policy for these machines is that, except that it’s even more efficient.

    Using the LPR’s to identify reported stolen cars if they are in the city seems like a great idea…storing that data so that it can be referenced in the future seems like an extreme overreach. During the city council discussion about buying these things, there were lots of anecdotal stories of how they can be useful. In my memory, every one would be effectively dealt with using real-time data and did not necessitate the warehousing of information for future searches about past travel behavior.

    Comment by jkw — January 23, 2014 @ 12:35 pm

  3. The reference to preservation of data where it is reasonable to believe that the data will become evidence in a civil matter is quite open-ended. Would a letter from a civil attorney to the PD requesting preservation of data covering a period of time (to prove ____ in a civil case, e.g., that a party to a case is not physically disabled from driving or was in Alameda on a certain date) be enough to preserve a large block of data from deletion? If so, would the data be thereafter available only for use for that particular purpose or would it, once preserved, be available for any use? Does anyone know whether state law imposes restrictions on the use and dissemination of this data on top of whatever policies the City adopts? The Government Code section referred to in the article gives discretionary authority to local authorities with respect to the destruction of recorded data.

    Comment by Joe — January 23, 2014 @ 1:15 pm

  4. There is plenty of precedent in England for their use and plenty of debate.

    “But not everyone is reassured by the idea of lenses capable of reading a car license plate from half a mile away. Anecdotal evidence suggests the technology can be used for voyeurism, and concerns remain about who gets access to the tapes, which are typically held for a month before being erased.”

    Comment by MI — January 23, 2014 @ 3:03 pm

  5. I don’t always agree with the ACLU, but they got it exactly right this time:

    Comment by vigi — January 23, 2014 @ 4:45 pm

  6. I guess I’m in the minority, but I think this is the direction we need to go. Crime in the Bay Area is on the rise, and we need to give the police the tools they need to reduce crime. This I think is one tool that will help.

    Comment by Karen Bey — January 23, 2014 @ 8:02 pm

  7. 5. Thanks for posting the ACLU document. Yow.

    Thanks for posting the date of the City forum, Lauren.

    “The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance.”

    Comment by Catherine — January 23, 2014 @ 9:15 pm

  8. Crime is NOT on the rise.

    “Crime on the rise” is a useful fiction being sold (with the help of the mainstream media) by those who wish to watch, oppress, and enslave us.

    Comment by liberty — January 24, 2014 @ 10:45 am

  9. Really hard to strip and paste from ACLU article.

    “License plate readers would pose few
    civil liberties risks if they only checked
    plates against hot lists and these
    hot lists were implemented soundly.”

    The above is all I would want but the arguments about abuses are compelling, so I think this needs a lot of public discussion and caution if we move on it. The bigger picture of “big data” a la Big Brother should also not be ignored, though to have a realistic discussion of that requires a much wider forum like national discussion of security and privacy in the context of rapidly expanding computer science. Ironically some of the most vehement discussions I’ve read lashing out at NSA have been on Facebook. Though participants are aware of the irony, I think anybody who is seriously concerned ought to consider their Facebook habit, but that’s a big picture discussion.

    Back to Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood (Eddy Murphy reference). Regardless of crime stats for Oakland (BTW-murders are down big time) those stats are kind of meaningless for us without comparing our own stats for similar periods, otherwise Oakland is just a boogieman for all manner of xenophobia.

    There is more to Oakland than mayhem.

    Comment by MI — January 24, 2014 @ 12:47 pm

  10. Herbert, crime in the current period in our local area is far more relevant than a 2 century overview of many places.

    Mark, Oakland does have a vastly higher crime rate than Alameda, nearly 4x according to data below. That’s just a fact. Facts are neither xenophobic nor bogeymen, they are just facts.

    I’m of two minds on this one, the safety & the privacy issues are both valid and somewhat in conflict. Push comes to shove, I marginally side with Karen. A tool that assists police is valuable.

    Re; the privacy issue, A) while the potential for abuse is there, I’m willing to let the police use it under supervision and oversight, and subject to revocation by council if there are problems and B) the data collected is from public streets, not private places.

    Comment by dave — January 24, 2014 @ 1:37 pm

  11. Alameda draft policy:

    All ALPR data downloaded to the server should be stored for one year (Government
    Code § 34090.6), and thereafter may be purged unless it has become, or it is reasonable to believe it will become, evidence in a criminal or civil action or is subject to a lawful action to produce records. In those circumstances the applicable data

    Change the retention period from one year to thirty days and I’m for it. I agree with Tiburon, one year retention changes the program from crime reduction to big brother poking into private business they have no legitimate right or need to be poking in.

    Linda Lye, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, is particularly concerned that the Piedmont proposal includes keeping the data for 12 months.

    “How, where and with whom I spend my time is my business,” she told KQED’s Stephanie Martin. “Comprehensive location tracking, which is made possible by advances in technology such as these license-plate readers, reveal all kinds of intimate details about a person’s life. Visits to the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, the gay bar, the union hall, the abortion clinic and so on.”

    With all the surveillance equipment available to law enforcement agents, they can already assemble a pretty detailed picture of your movements, Lye said.

    Tiburon Police Chief Michael Cronin:

    Tiburon decided to hang onto its data for only 30 days, precisely because of these concerns, Cronin said. He doesn’t think the information is very useful after that time. “I wanted to investigate crimes reported to the police,” he said. “Not a lot of crimes are reported after 30 days.”

    Comment by Herbert — January 25, 2014 @ 11:30 am

  12. “Privacy Impact Assessment applies to ALPR data collected by the NCRIC & [its] partner agencies & shared with other regional law enforcement agencies, accessed & analyzed using software hosted by the NCRIC”. Once one of these “partner agencies” accesses ALPR data, does it matter that the original data is wiped of the original server? Once it is passed on, it’s still out there. “Sworn officers” are not limited to those who wear uniforms, or are limited to your city jurisdiction. The California Department of Consumer Affairs has 37 licensing boards & bureaus, each with its assigned number of plainclothes investigators, who are sworn peace officers. They carry semi-automatic handguns, handcuffs, & have access to all the same CLETS data that uniformed LEOs do. Presumably they would also have access to ALPR data, or the fruits of it.

    The California BreEZe data base, which keeps data for years, on every licensed profession in California, from barbering to burying, claims to be the World’s largest “enforcement solution”.

    “The Department of Consumer Affairs is very excited to announce that a new online program is coming that will revolutionize the way we do business, the way our licensees and license applicants do business with us, and the way consumers interact with us. It’s called BreEZe – BreEZE, because many of the tasks that were paper-based and took some time and effort to complete will now be a, well, BreEZe. Once completed, BreEZe will be the largest online enterprise licensing and enforcement solution in the world, bringing with it improved access to our services, greater ease of use for our stakeholders and improved back-office functionality that will greatly enhance our licensing and enforcement efficiency.”

    DCA Investigators typically take years to build a case against a cosmetologist or veterinarian, holding onto & accumulating any data they can possibly use against a licensee all the way. Usually these are not criminal cases at all, but may result in license discipline. Even if the licensee is cleared of any charges, DCA retains the investigative file for 5 years or more.

    Once data like ALPR is collected, it is forever, to be manipulated at will by those who make the laws & enforce them.

    Comment by vigi — January 27, 2014 @ 10:38 am

  13. License plate readers. Selling points to recover stolen cars. Lessons from UK’s grid of cameras. Where does the photos end up? Data companies that resell the photos. People who get tagged as domestic terror lists and end up in no-fly lists.


    View story at

    Comment by LetsDiscussPrivacy — January 27, 2014 @ 1:54 pm

  14. Jkw sez: Palo Alto’s “eoc” costs only $100K. Oakland’s Domain Awareness Center costs $10 million. The cost of Alameda’s projected EOC is growing like Topsy: now over $6 Million! Coincidentally, just as APD introduces ALPRs? We already have the CCTV all over Webster & Park Sts. Which of these 2 facilities do you think Alameda’s EOC will really resemble? Yep, Alameda’s EOC is gonna be a DAC. Nice transparency, Mr. Russo. But we see thru you….

    Comment by vigi — January 30, 2014 @ 4:36 pm

  15. tonight’s meeting on the proposed ALPR was one of the better public meetings I’ve attended in Alameda. It reminded me why it can be such a good idea to attend meetings in the flesh, because you just can’t get the same nuance, even from video. I have to say that I really trust the intentions of our police chief, but I was reminded that people who are steeped in various cultures, like law enforcement for example, can have a kind of tunnel vision. I’m not entirely clear what the data pool is which cross indexes hits from APLR, but obviously if it was only from within our police department it would be next to useless, so the pooling and retention becomes the salient factor. Interesting that ACLU is not categorically opposed. Other states which use the system include New Hampshire, which has zero retention. Good old “live free or die”. The server for the system is “hosted” by Northern California Regional Intelligence Center. According to it’s web site “NCRIC is an integral component of The National Fusion Center Enterprise and is one of 78 State Governor designated and DHS recognized fusion centers in The United States”. It is wired directly to Homeland Security. The gentleman representing NCRIC tonight seemed like a true believer alright, but not as earnest as local men in blue. As the evening progressed his answers ( and semi-audible non-anwers) to public questions left me with a creepy feeling.

    Comment by MI — February 3, 2014 @ 9:49 pm

  16. The “gentleman representing NCRIC tonight” seemed to be nothing other than a traditional “narc” [hopefully, someone is old enough to know what that means: he’s your friendly neighborhood narco agent, friendly neighborhood finkin’ Feddy…as the song goes/went…]. He claimed not to know if NCRIC data was shared with NSA, or the sworn agents of the DEA and Immigration [ICE]. Really? Disingenuous to the max. The danger here is all about the Data Sharing. For example, Medical Marijuana is still Schedule I. No matter what the States say, involvement in marijuana distribution & sale is still a Federal crime. Individual users may be at little risk, but the California DCA has no problem at all revoking the licenses of doctors who write too many 420 evaluations/recommendations. This is not considered a “criminal activity”, but a “civil/administrative action”. It is often local law enforcement that tips off the Feds, & that is without ALPR data! These larger Federal & State agencies often rely on Behavior Patterns [where you’ve been, who you hang with] to make their cases. Just being the victim of such an investigation can ruin your life. Other such agencies include the IRS & the SEC. You can probably think of more. Remember, this data is gathered before you do anything wrong, kept & shared in anticipation that you will. Any claimed firewalls are illusory. If the IRS wants to grab a bundle of bulk data from NCRIC every 20 days, before such data is deleted at 30 days, I doubt it needs a warrant, subpoena, or any disclosed reason at all.
    We were told Piedmont has 11,000 residents, but has accumulated 3,000,000 ALPR data points. That’s 3000 data points per eleven residents. Almost 300 per resident. I presume each “read” can represent a different place & time the car was spotted. Even without knowing who is driving, that’s a lot of info, potentially, about the behavior of any one vehicle. Think about it.

    Comment by vigi — February 4, 2014 @ 10:20 am

  17. In other news today, according to a new report from the National Registry of Exonerations, Nicole Harris was one of 87 people exonerated in 2013, a record-breaking year for official vindications in the United States, Nearly a third were in cases where no crime occurred — such as Harris’.

    Harris’ son, Jaquari, died in 2005 after an elastic band from a fitted bed sheet asphyxiated him. Harris was questioned by police for 27 hours after the boy died. She said she eventually gave a videotaped confession because she was threatened and denied basic necessities, like water, food and bathroom breaks, during her interrogation. Nicole Harris lost her 4-year-old son in a tragic accident, then spent nearly eight years behind bars after being found guilty for his death.

    As technology marches on, more innocent victims are being arrested, tried, & convicted of crimes that either they did not commit, or weren’t crimes at all.

    Comment by vigi — February 4, 2014 @ 10:44 am

  18. Coming soon to your town. License plate readers

    Comment by WhatMeWorry — April 23, 2014 @ 12:44 pm

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