Civil Liberties Groups Demand California Police Stop Sharing Drivers’ Location Data With Police In Anti-Abortion States

This sharing by 71 CA police agencies violates state law and could be used by other states to identify and prosecute abortion seekers and providers.

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SAN FRANCISCO—Seventy-one California police agencies in 22 counties must immediately stop sharing automated license plate reader (ALPR) data with law enforcement agencies in other states because it violates California law and could enable prosecution of abortion seekers and providers elsewhere, three civil liberties groups demanded Thursday in letters to those agencies.

The letters from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU NorCal), and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) gave the agencies a deadline of June 15 to comply and respond. A months-long EFF investigation involving hundreds of public records requests uncovered that many California police departments share records containing detailed driving profiles of local residents with out-of-state agencies.

ALPR camera 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.

“ALPRs invade people’s privacy and violate the rights of entire communities, as they often are deployed in poor and historically overpoliced areas regardless of crime rates,” said EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Pinsof. “Sharing ALPR data with law enforcement in states that criminalize abortion undermines California’s extensive efforts to protect reproductive health privacy.”

The letters note how the nation’s legal landscape has changed in the past year.

“Particularly since the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, ALPR technology and the information it collects is vulnerable to exploitation against people seeking, providing, and facilitating access to abortion,” the letters say. “Law enforcement officers in anti-abortion jurisdictions who receive the locations of drivers collected by California-based ALPRs may seek to use that information to monitor abortion clinics and the vehicles seen around them and closely track the movements of abortion seekers and providers. This threatens even those obtaining or providing abortions in California, since several anti-abortion states plan to criminalize and prosecute those who seek or assist in out-of-state abortions.”

Idaho, for example, has enacted a law that makes helping a pregnant minor get an abortion in another state punishable by two to five years in prison.

The agencies that received the demand letters have shared ALPR data with law enforcement agencies across the country, including agencies in states with abortion restrictions including Alabama, Idaho, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. Since 2016, sharing any ALPR data with out-of-state or federal law enforcement agencies is a violation of the California Civil Code (SB 34). Nevertheless, many agencies continue to use services such as Vigilant Solutions or Flock Safety to make the ALPR data they capture available to out-of-state and federal agencies.

California law enforcement’s sharing of ALPR data with law enforcement in states that criminalize abortion also undermines California’s extensive efforts to protect reproductive health privacy, specifically a 2022 law (AB 1242) prohibiting state and local agencies from providing abortion-related information to out-of-state agencies.

For one of the new letters from EFF, ACLU NorCal, and ACLU SoCal:

For information on how ALPRs threaten abortion access:

For general information about ALPRs:

Agencies that received the demand letters include:

That’s 71 agencies in 22 counties:

  • 12 in Orange County
  • 11 in Los Angeles County
  • 8 in Contra Costa County
  • 7 in Riverside County
  • 6 in San Joaquin County
  • 5 in San Bernardino County
  • 5 in Imperial County
  • 2 in Ventura County
  • 2 in Marin County
  • 1 each in El Dorado, Fresno, Humboldt, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, Placer, Sacramento, San Diego, Santa Clara, Solano, and Yolo counties

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