ACLU of Southern California v. Superior Court of Los Angeles

Whether millions of license plate scans collected by Automated License Plate Readers are exempt from disclosure as law enforcement investigative records.

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  • EPIC to Maryland Legislators: Security Questions Need Upgrade: EPIC Interim Associate Director and Policy DIrector Caitriona Fitzgerald will testify today before the Maryland Senate Committee on Finance in support of stronger authentication methods to protect consumers. Senate Bill 185 requires financial institutions who choose to use security questions as a authentication method to provide customers with more than one security question option. EPIC noted that there are plenty of alternative authentication methods available today and that financial institutions truly should no longer be using basic security questions. "The requirement that your password contain one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter, one symbol, and one number is meaningless if all that is required to bypass that password is your pet’s name," EPIC told the Committee. But, EPIC said, if security questions are going to be used, institutions should ensure that multiple question options are given, and that users are permitted to answer the questions with randomly-generated password-like answers rather than factual, semantic answers. (Feb. 9, 2021)
  • Tech Companies Block Washington State Privacy Law: Last minute lobbying by big tech companies blocked passage of the Washington Privacy Act. The state privacy law have given consumers the right to access, correct and delete their personal data held by tech firms. EPIC and a broad coalition of privacy groups backed a comprehensive bill that would include, as privacy laws typically do, the right of consumers to bring legal action but that was opposed by industry groups. The Washington legislature did pass a modest bill limiting the government use of facial recognition technology. EPIC has long supported federal baseline legislation and the creation of a data protection agency. EPIC has also called for a moratorium on face surveillance. The EPIC State Policy Project monitors privacy bills nationwide. (Mar. 13, 2020)
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  • EPIC, Coalition Recommend Changes to Pending Washington Privacy Law » (Mar. 5, 2020)
    EPIC along with a coalition of groups proposed changes to the Washington Privacy Act, a bill now pending in the Washington legislature. The Washington Privacy Act would give consumers the right to access, correct and delete personal data held by companies, and it wold require companies to uphold privacy obligations, including transparency, purpose specification, data minimization, security, and nondiscrimination. But the bill lacks an effective mechanism for enforcement, permits the deployment of facial recognition, and contains many loopholes. EPIC and the coalition urged the Washington legislature to establish a private right of action, narrow the exemptions, make risk assessments publicly accessible, and remove the provisions permitting facial recognition. At the federal level, EPIC supports H.R. 4978, the Online Privacy Act, and S. 3300, to establish a US Data Protection Agency. EPIC has also called for a moratorium on face surveillance. The EPIC State Policy Project monitors privacy bills nationwide.
  • EPIC Advises New York Senate on Privacy Legislation » (Nov. 21, 2019)
    EPIC has sent a statement to the New York State Senate recommending passage of legislation modeled on Fair Information Practices and creation of a Data Protection Agency. The NY Senate will hold a hearing this week on Senate Bill 5642, concerting oversight of personal data. EPIC's recent report, Grading on a Curve: Privacy Legislation in the 116th Congress sets out the key elements of a privacy law. "A strong state privacy law would establish an independent state-level Data Protection Agency with resources, technical expertise, rulemaking authority and effective enforcement powers," EPIC told the New York Senate. EPIC's State Policy Project tracks privacy developments at the state level.
  • Pew: States Battle Big Tech Over Data Privacy Laws » (Jul. 31, 2019)
    The Pew Charitable Trusts reports that of the 24 states legislatures that considered data privacy legislation in 2019, only a few have passed new laws. Last year, California passed the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, the most comprehensive consumer privacy state law ever enacted in the United States. This month, New York state passed the Stop Hacks and Improve Electronic Data Security, which imposes new obligations on businesses collecting personal data on New York residents. According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, more than 100 privacy bills are currently pending in the states. The EPIC State Policy Project monitors privacy bills nationwide
  • Utah Becomes First State to Require Warrant for Data Held by Third-parties » (Apr. 1, 2019)
    The State of Utah has become the first state in the nation to require law enforcement to obtain a warrant to obtain electronic data held by third parties such as wireless providers, email providers, search engines, or social media companies. House Bill 57, sponsored by State Representative Craig Hall (R) was signed by Governor Gary Herbert last week. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled in Carpenter v. United States that the Fourth Amendment protects location records generated by mobile phones. Recognizing that other types of data were in equal need of protections, Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the Court, said "legislation is much preferable to the development of an entirely new body of Fourth Amendment case law." Utah took that advice and passed broad protections for essentially all data held by third-parties, with exceptions in emergency circumstances. EPIC filed an amicus brief in the Carpenter case, has recommended updates to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and recently proposed a comprehensive strategy for Congress to update federal law after the Carpenter decision.
  • Idaho Enacts Law Requiring Transparency in Pre-Trial Risk Assessments » (Mar. 28, 2019)
    Idaho became the first state to pass a law specifically promoting transparency, accountability, and explainability in pre-trial risk assessment tools. Pre-trial risk assessments are algorithms that help inform sentencing and bail decisions for defendants. The law prevents a trade secrecy or IP defense, requires public availability of “all documents, data, records, and information used by the builder to build or validate the pretrial risk assessment tool,” and empowers defendants to review all calculations and data that went into their risk score. The law became effective on July 1, 2019. EPIC has consistently advocated for Algorithmic Transparency and urges jurisdictions to use the Universal Guidelines for Artificial Intelligence as a guideline for AI policy.
  • EPIC to Senate Committee: Privacy Rules Can Help Level Playing Field for Small Business » (Mar. 26, 2019)
    In advance of a hearing on "Small Business Perspectives on a Federal Data Privacy Framework," EPIC has sent a statement to the the Senate committee on consumer protection. EPIC said that over the last two decades, an absence of privacy regulation has led to a growing concentration of internet services. "Privacy rules could help level the playing field," EPIC said. EPIC also warmed against preempting state laws, citing California's data breach legislation as an example. "A federal law that preempted California's ability to respond to new threats would have placed consumers and businesses at risk," EPIC said.
  • California AG Proposes Stronger Enforcement for State Privacy Law » (Feb. 28, 2019)
    The attorney general of California has unveiled legislation that would strengthen the California Consumer Privacy Act. The new bill would enable consumers to enforce their rights in court. The proposal comes as California seeks to implement the Consumer Privacy Act. In testimony for the US Congress, EPIC has explained that the “most effective way to improve data security is to establish a private right of action.” At present, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of substantial privacy complaints pending before the Federal Trade Commission. The EPIC State Policy Project monitors privacy bills nationwide.
  • State Consumer Protection Report Highlights Privacy Cases » (Feb. 12, 2019)
    A recent report by the Center for State Enforcement of Antitrust and Consumer Protection Laws highlighted major privacy actions by state attorneys general, including New York's lawsuit against Apple for the FaceTime bug and California's settlement with Aetna for sending letters that revealed, through an oversized clear window, that the recipient was taking HIV-related medication. Several Attorneys General, including the DC attorney general, have sued Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica scandal. EPIC opposes federal preemption of state law, has defended the enforcement powers of state attorneys general, and established the EPIC State Policy Project to highlight model state privacy law.
  • New Hampshire Voters Establish Constitutional Right to Informational Privacy » (Nov. 8, 2018)
    New Hampshire voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that guarantees a constitutional right to information privacy in the state. The measure, which received 80% of the vote, amends Article 2 in the New Hampshire Bill of Rights providing that "an individual's right to live free from governmental intrusion in private or personal information is natural, essential, and inherent." New Hampshire joins a growing number of states with constitutional privacy protections. EPIC Advisory Board member David Flaherty has written about the development of constitutional privacy protections. EPIC regularly files amicus briefs supporting state privacy rights. In a recent amicus brief concerning the OPM data breach, EPIC argued that the right to information privacy exists in the federal Constitution.
  • California Bans Anonymous Bots, Regulates Internet of Things » (Oct. 2, 2018)
    California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed two modern privacy laws, including a first in the nation law governing the security of the Internet of Things. SB327 sets baseline security standards for IoT devices. EPIC recently submitted comments to the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommending similar action. Governor Brown also signed a bill banning anonymous bots. The law makes it illegal to use a bot, or automated account, to mislead California residents or communicate without disclosing the identity of the actual operator. EPIC President Marc Rotenberg had earlier proposed that Asimov's Laws of Robotics be updated to require that robots reveal the basis of their decisions (Algorithmic Transparency) and that robots reveal their actual identity.
  • California Passes Milestone Privacy Law » (Jun. 28, 2018)
    The State of California has enacted the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, the most comprehensive consumer privacy state law ever enacted in the United States. The Act will establish the right of residents of California to know what personal information about them is being collected; to know whether their information is sold or disclosed and to whom; to limit the sale of personal information to others; to access their information held by others; and to obtain equal service and price, even if they exercise their privacy rights. The Act will allow individuals to delete their data and it will establish opt-in consent for those under 16. The Consumer Privacy Act provides for enforcement by the Attorney General, a private right of action, and will establish a Consumer Privacy Fund to support the purposes of Act. The California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 follows a California ballot initiative that gathered over 600,000 signatures. After the Equifax data breach, EPIC testified in the U.S. Senate that comprehensive privacy legislation was long overdue. The EPIC State Policy Project also provides expertise to the states to help shape strong privacy laws.
  • Court Rules California Police Can't Avoid Public Scrutiny of License Plate Reader Program » (Aug. 31, 2017)
    The California Supreme Court ruled that the mass, indiscriminate collection of license plate data by California police cannot be shielded from public scrutiny. In response to an open records request by EFF and the ACLU of Southern California, Los Angeles area law enforcement attempted to prevent disclosure by claiming all license plate data were "investigative records." The court ruled that the license plate data of millions of law-abiding citizens was not an "investigative record." The Court stated, "It is hard to imagine that the Legislature intended for the records of investigations exemption to reach the large volume of data that plate scanners and other similar technologies now enable agencies to collect indiscriminately." EPIC filed an amicus brief in the public records case stating, "Public scrutiny is essential to counter the unique threats posed by these programs of broad-scale surveillance." Documents obtained by EPIC about the FBI's use of license plate readers showed the agency failed to address the system's privacy implications.
  • Secret Ballot At Risk in Colorado As Governor Considers "Ballot Selfie" Bill » (Mar. 16, 2017)
    The Colorado General Assembly recently passed a bill that allows "ballot selfies," threatening voter privacy. Ballot selfies allow campaigns, employers, unions, and others to verify how an individual voted. But EPIC explained in "The Secret Ballot At Risk: Recommendations for Protecting Democracy" that the secret ballot — the inability to link particular voters to particular votes — is a cornerstone of modern democracies. The secret ballot reduces the threat of coercion, vote buying and selling, and tampering. The secret ballot allows people to vote without fear of intimidation or retaliation. EPIC has a long history of working to protect voter privacy and election integrity. In a 2010 Supreme Court case, EPIC argued that disregard for voter privacy may unconstitutionally burden the right to vote.
  • EPIC Urges Massachusetts High Court to Protect Email Privacy » (Oct. 24, 2016)
    EPIC has filed an amicus brief in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court regarding email privacy. At issue is Google's scanning of the email of non-Gmail users. EPIC argued that this is prohibited by the Massachusetts Wiretap Act. EPIC described Google's complex scanning and analysis of private communications, concluding that it was far more invasive than the interception of a telephone communications, prohibited by state law. A federal court in California recently ruled that non-Gmail users may sue Google for violation of the state wiretap law. EPIC has filed many amicus briefs in federal and state courts and participated in the successful litigation of a cellphone privacy case before the Massachusetts Judicial Court. The EPIC State Policy Project is based in Somerville, Massachusetts.
  • Massachusetts Court Upholds Privacy Rights of Cell Phone Users » (Sep. 28, 2016)
    The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled today in Commonwealth v. White that the Fourth Amendment prohibits law enforcement from seizing a cell phone based simply on an officer’s suspicion that a cell phone may be used in a crime, finding that a warrant must be obtained prior to the seizure of the phone. EPIC filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that "digital is different," and therefore the legal standard for warrantless searches of contraband in schools does not apply to cell phones. EPIC also explained the significance of Riley v. California, the recent Supreme Court  that established a warrant requirement for searches of cell phones. The EPIC State Policy Project coordinated the EPIC amicus brief in the case.
  • Secret Ballot At Risk in Maryland After Election Board Vote » (Sep. 27, 2016)
    The Maryland State Board of Elections has voted to certify Maryland’s online ballot-marking system for general use, threatening voter privacy. Voters using the online-ballot marking system would receive and fill out their ballot online, risking third party access their vote. Previously online ballot-marking was permitted only to enable participation by voters with disabilities. EPIC, Verified Voting, and Common Cause recently released The Secret Ballot at Risk: Recommendations for Protecting Democracy, a report highlighting the right to a secret ballot and how Internet voting threatens voter privacy. EPIC has a long history of working to protect voter privacy and election integrity.
  • EPIC, Verified Voting, Common Cause Release Report on Ballot Secrecy » (Aug. 18, 2016)
    EPIC, Verified Voting, and Common Cause today released The Secret Ballot at Risk: Recommendations for Protecting Democracy, a report highlighting the right to a secret ballot and how Internet voting threatens voter privacy. All 50 states recognize ballot secrecy as a core value. Despite this, 32 states and DC are promoting Internet voting, typically for overseas and military voters, and are asking those voters to waive their right to a secret ballot. That threatens voting freedom and election integrity. The report recommends actions voters can take to protect the secrecy of their ballot, and encourages states to do more to safeguard voter privacy. EPIC has a long history of working to protect voter privacy and election integrity.
  • EPIC Urges Wisconsin Legislature to Safeguard Student Privacy » (Aug. 17, 2016)
    In testimony for the Wisconsin legislature, EPIC urged state lawmakers to protect student privacyEPIC's testimony: (1) explained how the U.S. Education Department weakened key safeguards for student records,  (2) described the privacy risks that students today face,  (3) underscored the need for data security safeguards for student information, and (4) recommended that Wisconsin adopt EPIC's Student Privacy Bill of Rights EPIC has previously urged Congress, the Education Department, and the Federal Trade Commission to strengthen student privacyEPIC's State Policy Project is monitoring privacy bills nationwide.
  • States Adopt New Student Privacy Safeguards » (Jun. 21, 2016)
    Several states have recently enacted new student privacy laws. Colorado and Connecticut’s laws impose strict requirements on those who collect student data. Connecticut also requires that parents are notified each time a school district enters into a contract that involves student data.  North Carolina enacted a student privacy law modeled after California's Student Online Personal Information Protection Act. The National Association of State Boards of Education reported that 38 states considered student privacy legislation in 2016. Ten of those states passed student privacy laws. EPIC has urged the enactment of a comprehensive student privacy bill of rightsEPIC's State Policy Project is monitoring privacy bills nationwide.
  • Amendment Would Overturn Model Facial Recognition Privacy Law » (May. 27, 2016)
    The Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act is one of the strongest facial recognition laws in the country. Enacted in 2008, the law prohibits the use of biometric recognition technologies without consent and provides for meaningful enforcement. But a proposed amendment would undercut legal protections, exempting facial recognition software from the law. A pending lawsuit against Facebook alleges that the company violates the law by amassing a database of users’ faceprints “without even informing its users — let alone obtaining their informed written consent.” EPIC has urged a moratorium for such surveillance techniques, pending the enactment of strong privacy laws such as those in Illinois. In much of the world, facial recognition software is illegal.
  • EPIC Urges California Supreme Court to Protect Open Records Law » (May. 6, 2016)
    EPIC has urged the California Supreme Court to reverse a lower court decision that blocked public release of records about "automated license plate readers" operated by the state police. The lower court held that information about the public surveillance system was an “investigative record” under California law. EPIC’s amicus brief stated, "Public scrutiny is essential to counter the unique threats posed by these programs of broad-scale surveillance." EPIC had obtained documents about the FBI’s license plate reader program under the FOI law. Those records revealed that the FBI failed to address the system's privacy implications.
  • NY Attorney General Reports 40% Increase in Data Breaches » (May. 5, 2016)

    New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his office has received 459 notices of data breaches impacting New Yorkers so far in 2016, representing a 40 percent increase over the same period last year. The office expects to receive a record-setting thousand notices or more this year. "Data breaches are an escalating threat to our personal and national security, and companies need to do more to ensure reasonable security practices and best standards are in place to protect our most sensitive information," said Schneiderman. EPIC recently launched “Data Protection 2016,” a non-partisan campaign to make data protection an issue in the 2016 election.

  • Privacy in the States: Data Breach Notification in TN, Drone Surveillance in OR » (Apr. 15, 2016)
    Tennessee has become to the first state to expand data breach notification requirements to encrypted data. Public Chapter Number 692 requires any information holder to notify Tennessee residents of a data breach even if the data was encrypted. Information holders include anyone who conducts business in the state or state agencies that own or license personal information. The new law also requires that the notice be made within 45 days of discovering the breach.

    Oregon further strengthened protections against drone surveillance last month when Governor Kate Brown signed HB 4066. Existing Oregon law already provided a civil action against drone operators who fly over private property after receiving notice from the property owner. The new legislation adds a provision to the state's criminal laws which would make the recording of photos, motion picture video, or other visual recording through the use of a drone an invasion of personal privacy, which is a Class A misdemeanor. The law also requires that any public body that operates a drone establish policies for the "use, storage, accessing, sharing and retention of data" resulting from the operation of drones. EPIC's State Policy Project monitors state privacy issues nationwide.
  • EPIC to Testify before Pennsylvania Senate on Domestic Drone Surveillance » (Mar. 14, 2016)
    EPIC Domestic Surveillance Project Director Jeramie Scot will testify at a hearing on before the Pennsylvania Senate Majority on "Unmanned Aerial Vehicles." The hearing will address the private and public sector use of drones. In a prepared statement, EPIC’s Scott urges the Pennsylvania Senate to enact legislation to limit both law enforcement and commercial drone surveillance. EPIC states, “The increased use of drones to conduct various forms of surveillance must be accompanied by increased privacy protections.” EPIC previously sued the FAA for failing to establish federal privacy rules for commercial drones. EPIC v. FAA is pending before the D.C. Circuit.
  • EPIC FOIA - Information about Controversial DNA Forensic Technique Released » (Feb. 23, 2016)
    In response to EPIC's FOIA request, the California Department of Justice has released records on a controversial forensic technique. The records show that in 2014, the state agency spent more than $300,000 on STRMix, a secret technique for matching DNA. Investigators in Australia subsequently found an error in the STRMix code that produced incorrect results in 60 criminal cases, including a high-profile murder case. STRMix promises prosecutors the ability to "[c]arry out familial searches against a database, searching for close relatives of contributors to mixed DNA profiles" but the algorithm remains secret. EPIC is pursuing FOIA requests on the secret DNA matching algorithms with state agencies across the U.S.
  • California AG Releases 2016 Data Breach Report, Retail and Financial Sectors Most Vulnerable » (Feb. 18, 2016)
    A new report from California Attorney General Kamala Harris examines data breaches in California from 2012 to 2015. There were 657 data breaches during the last four years, which compromised over 49 million records. The retail sector experienced the largest share of breaches at 25%, followed by the financial sector at 18%. Among several recommendations, the report recommends that organizations adopt strong encryption. "Government and the private sector have a shared responsibility to safeguard consumers from threats to their privacy, finances, and personal security," Attorney General Harris stated. The Attorney General received a 2015 EPIC Champion of Freedom Award. EPIC recently launched "Data Protection 2016," a non-partisan campaign to make data protection an issue in the 2016 election.
  • In Court: EPIC Urges Massachusetts to Protect Student Privacy » (Nov. 23, 2015)
    EPIC has filed an amicus brief in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court regarding a student privacy case. EPIC said that the police should obtain a warrant before seizing a student's cell phone. Citing a recent Supreme Court case, EPIC explained "Modern cell phones . . . implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet, or a purse. In Riley v. California, a unanimous Supreme Court held that a search of cell phone required a warrant. EPIC previously filed an amicus brief in Commonwealth v. Connolly, a Massachusetts case concerning GPS tracking. The EPIC State Policy Project is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • EPIC Obtains Documents on Secret DNA Forensic Source Code » (Nov. 10, 2015)
    In response to EPIC's state public records requests, Virginia and Pennsylvania have both released documents about "TrueAllele," a proprietary technique used in DNA forensic analysis. Virginia released to EPIC a validation study and validation summary prepared by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science. Pennsylvania produced purchase and service contracts, technical specifications, and user manuals for TrueAllele. Agencies in California, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Virginia have stated that they do not have access to the TrueAllele source code that they are using to produce evidence against defendants. EPIC's open government requests cited the importance of algorithmic transparency in the criminal justice system.
  • New Mexico Supreme Court Finds Warrantless Aerial Surveillance Violates Fourth Amendment » (Oct. 19, 2015)
    The Supreme Court of New Mexico ruled in State v. Davis that the Fourth Amendment prohibits the warrantless aerial surveillance of, and interference with, a person's private property. Specifically, the court found that "prolonged hovering close enough to the ground to cause interference with Davis' property transformed this surveillance from a lawful observation of an area left open to public view to an unconstitutional intrusion into Davis' expectation of privacy." EPIC filed a friend of the court brief and presented oral argument before the Court. EPIC said that aerial surveillance threatens privacy and property interests and that surveillance in the airspace close to a home violates the Fourth Amendment. The New Mexico Supreme Court agreed. EPIC frequently amicus briefs on emerging privacy and civil liberties issues.
  • EPIC Pursues Public Release of Secret DNA Forensic Source Code » (Oct. 14, 2015)
    EPIC has filed public records requests in six states to obtain the source code of "TrueAllele," a software product used in DNA forensic analysis. According to recent news reports, law enforcement officials use TrueAllele test results to establish guilt, but individuals accused of crimes are denied access to the source code that produces the results. A similar program used by New Zealand prosecutors was recently found to have a coding error that provided incorrect results in 60 cases, including a high-profile murder case. EPIC has previously urged the US Supreme Court to carefully consider the reliability of new investigative techniques and argued a federal appeals case against DNA dragnet surveillance. Citing the importance of algorithmic transparency in the criminal justice system, EPIC filed requests in California, Louisiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
  • California Rejects Warrantless Surveillance, Enacts "CalECPA" » (Oct. 9, 2015)
    California Governor Jerry Brown has signed the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA). CalECPA requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant before accessing digital data including metadata, location data, emails, and text messages. The warrant requirement applies to searches of electronic devices themselves and to content stored by an online service provider. In response to requests from the US Congress, EPIC has made several recommendations regarding updates to the federal ECPA. EPIC has also obtained documents from the FBI concerning Stingray surveillance technology, which is now prohibited under the California bill.
  • California Enacts Innovative Privacy Protections for Drones and SmartTVs » (Oct. 9, 2015)
    California Governor Jerry Brown has signed laws that provide California residents with privacy protections against drones and SmartTVs. AB856 prohibits drone flight in the airspace above private property with the intent of taking photos, video, or a sound recording of a person. AB1116 prohibits the use of voice recognition on SmartTVs unless consumers are "prominently inform[ed]" during the initial setup of the TV. The new California law also prohibits the use of voice recording for advertising purposes. Earlier this year, EPIC filed a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission about Samsung's SmartTVs and recommended new consumer safeguards. EPIC has also recommended drone privacy safeguards to the US Congress, the FAA, and State courts.
  • EPIC Urges Wisconsin to Protect SSNs of Job Seekers » (Sep. 15, 2015)
    In testimony for the Wisconsin legislature, EPIC urged state lawmakers to protect the privacy of SSNs for job seekers. EPIC expressed support for a bill that prohibits the Department of Workforce Development from requiring SSNs from those who are trying to obtain employment information from the state. EPIC explained that other states do not require SSN collection for job seekers and urged the development of a "context-dependent" identifier. EPIC has previously warned Congress about the link between SSN misuse and identity theft. EPIC's State Policy Project is monitoring privacy bills nationwide.
  • In the States: California Governor Vetoes Drone Privacy Bill » (Sep. 14, 2015)
    Following lobbying by several tech companies, California Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would have prohibited drone trespass over private property. Neighboring Oregon provides a civil action against drone operators who fly lower than 400 feet over private property. EPIC has testified in Congress in support of comprehensive drone privacy legislation, argued before the New Mexico Supreme Court in support of a warrant requirement for low altitude aerial surveillance, and sued the FAA for failing to establish drone privacy safeguards.
  • In the States: Delaware Enacts Several Privacy Laws » (Aug. 10, 2015)
    Delaware has recently passed four privacy laws. Under the Delaware Online Privacy and Protection Act, websites and apps must disclose the personally identifiable information they collect and how they use this information. The Student Data Privacy Protection Act enhances student privacy protections, banning companies from selling student data or using student data for targeted advertising. The Victim Online Privacy Act protects domestic violence survivors against having certain contact information posted online. The Employee/Applicant Protection for Social Media Act bars employers from demanding access to their employees' or prospective employees' social media accounts. EPIC's State Policy Project is monitoring privacy bills nationwide.
  • California Supreme Court to Review License Plate Records Case » (Jul. 30, 2015)
    The California Supreme Court has granted review of a lower court decision that prevented public release of information about "automated license plate readers." The lower court held that the information about the system to gather license plate data on all motorists was an "investigative record." EPIC urged the California Supreme Court to review the matter, stating, "as the government's ability to collect information about individuals has expanded, open record laws have become an important tool for government oversight." Documents obtained by EPIC about the FBI's use of license plate readers showed the agency failed to address the system's privacy implications.
  • In the States: NH Adopts Location Privacy Law » (Jul. 28, 2015)
    New Hampshire has enacted a strong location privacy law that requires a judicial warrant for access to cell phone location data. New Hampshire joins several other states that protect the privacy of cell phone location records, by public law or court decision. EPIC has filed amicus curiae briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of New Jersey arguing that location tracking by the government is a search under the Fourth Amendment and should be conducted only with a judicial warrant.
  • States Adopt Privacy Laws for Student Data, Breach Notification, License Plate Readers, and Drones » (Jul. 2, 2015)
    Several states have recently enacted new privacy laws. New Hampshire and Oregon passed student privacy legislation modeled after California's Student Online Personal Information Protection Act. Rhode Island and Connecticut enacted new consumer privacy and data breach notification laws. A new Minnesota law limits the data police may capture using automated license plate readers and requires the deletion of all data not relevant to an investigation. And the Freedom from Unwanted Surveillance Act, a law in Florida regulating the commercial use of drones, went into force this week. EPIC's State Policy Project is monitoring privacy bills nationwide.
  • EPIC Urges California Supreme Court to Protect Open Records Law » (Jun. 25, 2015)
    EPIC has asked the Supreme Court of California to review a lower court decision that prevented public release of information about "automated license plate readers." The lower court held that information about the system to gather license plate date on all motorists was an "investigative record." In the amicus letter EPIC stated, "as the government's ability to collect information about individuals has expanded, open record laws have become an important tool for government oversight." Documents obtained by EPIC about the FBI's use of license plate readers showed the agency failed to address the system's privacy implications.
  • South Carolina Requires Police Body Cameras, But Blocks Public Access to Footage » (Jun. 12, 2015)
    South Carolina has become the first state to require law enforcement agencies to deploy body cameras. However, the law exempts police body camera footage from public records law, which appears contrary to the stated goal of promoting police accountability. Many states are considering similar legislation and EPIC's State Policy Project is monitoring bills nationwide. EPIC has submitted testimony to Congress and the D.C. City Council opposing the deployment of body cameras. But where body-worn cameras are deployed, EPIC recommends that the police agencies comply with open government laws.
  • Florida Blocks Public Access to Police Body Camera Footage » (May. 27, 2015)
    Florida, a state with very broad open government laws, has exempted police body camera footage obtained inside a private residence, a health care, mental health care or social services facility or is taken in a place that a reasonable person would expect to be private from public records law. Many states are considering similar legislation and EPIC's State Policy Project is monitoring bills nationwide. EPIC has submitted testimony to Congress and the D.C. City Council in opposition to the deployment of body cameras. But, where body-worn cameras are deployed, EPIC recommends no exemptions from open government laws.
  • California AG Urges Congress to Reform Data Breach Notification Bill » (May. 21, 2015)
    California Attorney General Kamala Harris has admonished the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the proposed Data Security and Breach Notification Act. In a letter to Committee leadership, Harris wrote, "I urge you to recognize the important role that states play in developing innovative approaches to consumer protection, and to reject a one-size-fits all law that establishes a ceiling rather than a floor on data security and data breach notification and consumer protection." California's Constitution guarantees the right to privacy, and California passed the first ever state data breach notification law. EPIC has also warned that the House bill would preempt stronger state laws and strip the FCC of its authority to defend consumer privacy.
  • New Drone Privacy Law Signed by Florida Governor » (May. 17, 2015)
    Florida has a new law prohibiting the use of drones to intentionally record images of people on private property if a reasonable expectation of privacy exists. The law applies to law enforcement and private individuals, and provides for civil damages and injunctive relief. The law follows Florida's 2013 law requiring that police obtain a warrant to use drones to collect evidence. Many states are considering similar legislation and EPIC's State Policy Project is monitoring bills nationwide. EPIC has also testified in Congress in support of comprehensive drone privacy legislation, argued before the New Mexico Supreme Court in support of the warrant requirement, and sued the FAA for failing to establish drone privacy safeguards.
  • EPIC Comments on Maryland Drone Bill » (Mar. 17, 2015)
    In a prepared statement for a hearing on a bill to limit drone surveillance, EPIC urged Maryland state legislatures to add additional privacy protections. The bill prohibits drone surveillance of "specifically targeted individuals or private property," except where a valid search warrant is obtained or explicit consent is given. EPIC recommended that the bill specifically limit police drone surveillance of First Amendment protected activities, require use and data limitations, and include additional transparency and accountability measures. EPIC previously petitioned the FAA to establish clear privacy guidelines for commercial drones and urged Congress to establish privacy safeguards to limit drone surveillance.
  • EPIC Publishes 2015 FOIA Gallery » (Mar. 16, 2015)
    In celebration of Sunshine Week, EPIC has created a "FOIA Gallery" of its most significant open government cases from the past year. EPIC obtained documents about the Army's surveillance blimps over Washington, the NSA's domestic surveillance authority, the FBI's formerly secret surveillance reports, the CIA's surveillance of Congress, and license plate readers. EPIC also obtained significant court judgments in cases against the FBI concerning the Next Generation Identification system and the "Stingray" cellphone surveillance technique. EPIC published the first FOIA Gallery in 2001.
  • DHS Cancels Nationwide License Plate Tracking System » (Feb. 20, 2014)
    The Department of Homeland Security has cancelled a plan to build a national license plate tracking database. The database would have included the license plate records of car owners across the country, obtained from private companies and law enforcement agencies. The request for bids lacked any consideration of privacy protections. EPIC, through various Freedom of Information Act requests, had obtained extensive documents on the current programs operated by the Customs and Border Protection and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The documents uncovered by EPIC show that both agencies failed to adequately address the privacy implications of license plate readers. For more information, see EPIC: License Plate Recognition Systems.
  • EPIC FOIA - New Details About Automated License Plate Readers Obtained » (Feb. 14, 2012)
    In response to an EPIC Freedom of Information Act request, Customs and Border Protection has disclosed nearly 1,000 pages of documents on automated license plate readers and border body scanners. The documents include contracts with several companies, such as Rapiscan and L3, for vehicle and cargo screening x-ray devices. Previous documents obtained by EPIC revealed that the agency is developing integrated vehicle scanners, with backscatter x-ray, Closed Circuit Television, and automated license plate readers, that would be used with human subjects. Radiation experts have questioned the safety of these systems, which produce ionizing radiation. For more information see EPIC FOIA: Automated License Plate Readers and Border Checkpoint Body Scanners.
  • Summary

    The California Supreme Court will decide whether to review the Court of Appeals decision in ACLU Foundation of Southern California v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County. The Appeals Court agreed with the trial court, holding that records generated by Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR) are investigative records and thus exempt under California Government Code § 6254(f).

    The relevant part of § 5254(f) authorizes law enforcement to withhold "records of . . . investigations conducted by . . . any state or local police agency, or any investigatory or security files compiled by any other state or local police agency . . . ." At issue is whether the functions performed by ALPR systems are "investigations" within the meaning of § 6254(f).

    Background

    The case arises from separate open records request by the ACLU of Southern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) pertaining to the use Automated License Plate Readers by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD). Both ACLU and EFF filed open records requests for the policies, procedures, training, and practices related to the use of ALPR. Additionally, both organizations also requested a week’s worth of data from the ALPRs. The LAPD and LASD agreed to produce the policies, procedures, etc. but withheld the ALPR data citing, among other things, the exemption for records of law enforcement investigations. The trial court agreed with the LAPD and LASD and held that the ALPR data was exempted under California Government Code § 6254(f).

    ACLU of Southern LA’s Petition to California Appeals Court

    The ACLU and EFF petitioned the California Appeals Court, arguing that the Superior Court erred in holding the ALPR data exempt under § 6254(f). The petitioners argued that 1) the Superior Court misunderstood the technology when they determined that ALPR data constitutes investigative record because the ALPR data collection was generally targeted; and 2) the holding does not fit with the common understanding of "investigation" because it means all vehicles in the LA area are constantly under investigation. The petitioners argued that data collected indiscriminately is not a record of an investigation. The petitioners argued that to count all ALPR data as an investigative record would inappropriately expand the scope of § 6254(f).

    California Appeals Court Ruling

    The California Appeals Court upheld the Superior Court’s ruling that ALPR data was exempt from release because the data was an investigatory record under § 6254(f). The Appeals Court found that the scanning of license plates performed by the ALPR systems are investigations within the meaning of §6254(f) because they are “conducted for the purpose of uncovering information surrounding the commission of the violation [of law] and its agency.” Specifically, the ALPR systems scan plates and immediately check the plate scans against a “hot list” of plates associated with suspected crimes. The scans and hot list checks, according to the Appeals Court, are records of investigations. The Court adds in support of its position that these records exist only because the LAPD and LASD are trying to “uncover information surrounding the commission of a violation of law and its agency.”

    The Appeals Court found that just because the ALPR systems scanned all plates in view does not mean the ALPRs are not performing an investigation. The court explains that “in exempting records of . . . investigations conducted by law enforcement agencies, § 6254 does not distinguish between investigations to determine if a crime has been or is about to be committed and those that are undertaken once criminal conduct is apparent.” Additionally, the court argued that retention of millions of license plate scans for extended periods of time does not strip an investigative record of its exempt status.

    California Supreme Court

    In June 2015, the ACLU and the EFF petitioned the California Supreme Court to review the decision of the Appeals. The California Supreme Court agreed to review the case in July 2015.

    EPIC's Interest in ACLU of Southern California v. Superior Court of LA

    EPIC has a long-standing record of protecting open record laws and access by the public to government records. Additionally, EPIC advocates for stronger privacy against surveillance technology and against mass surveillance of the public. ACLU v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County is particularly significant and relevant to EPIC’s mission because of its potential to extend the California’s open record exemption for law enforcement investigative records to all indiscriminate mass surveillance conducted by California authorities. Such a broad exemption would undermine the purpose of open government laws and impede the public’s ability to learn about potential abuse and misuse of mass surveillance techniques.

    Legal Documents

    California Supreme Court, No. S227106

    Merits Stage Petition Stage

    California Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 3

    Los Angelas County Superior Court

    Resources

    News Reports

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