Say Cheese!

When does a camera become a personal invasion?

With IPhones, Drones and every person a sensor is it any surprise we are collecting more and more photos every day? Most of these are simply someone capturing events and special moments. Often in the background of your picture are people, cars and buildings.

How often have we heard about police “collecting” home security videos to find clues on a heinous crime? I assume they often get these voluntarily as the owner of the video has the right to share their data if they choose. I suppose law enforcement gets a warrant if that’s required.

Drones and GoPro cameras have increased our capability and suddenly even your fenced backyard isn’t as private as you might hope.

The laws vary from state to state: In some states you need all-party permission to record a person (meaning you the recorder and they the recorded need to know and agree to the recording); Maryland is one of those states. Some states are single party notice where only one party being recorded need provide permission; Virginia is a one-party state.

All party and one party rules ONLY apply to conversations that are, or should be, considered private. Meaning even in Maryland if you DON’T have a reasonable expectation of privacy recording is ok…

Here’s what’s scary – there are times when people misinterpret and use these laws…

For example, a person being pulled over in Maryland for a traffic stop was later arrested for wiretapping and possession of an interception device. What was the interception device? His CAMERA! Really, so suddenly if you carry and use your camera you may be breaking Maryland law? No, but you still might get arrested by an over zealous or misinformed officer.

Here’s the topic in a nutshell – State and federal courts across the country have determined that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in public spaces. This is why someone can snap your photo in public without your consent.

Ok, so you can record and be recorded in public. Most of us don’t have a flock of paparazzi chasing us around…at least I don’t.

The strange area is LPRs – the dreaded license plate reader. Do I know they’re there? Sometimes – driving across the US/Mexico and Canada borders – yep. Parking at Dulles airport – yep. Driving through a tollbooth – yep. Hidden in a plastic crash barrel – what? Amazingly there are hidden LPRs working everyday…

So what’s the big deal? If you can record public video then it’s public use right? Not so fast… Some argue that things like multiple days of LPR data allow you to determine private-ish data like driving schedules.

This was recently tested when a citizen asked for access to the anonymized LPR data in Los Angles and was told no it’s private data…

Here’s a great article on this topic

So suddenly we have a new class of data: it’s not PII protected by warrant-less search laws, yet it’s not public data with free access. It’s “confidential” data that apparently the public does not have access to but law enforcement and government can access without warrants or cause.


I get why we might need to use this data -

Ok, I get it in a way. If we can find a child’s kidnapper by reviewing tollgate LPR data that’s great, we need to save the child. However, I also understand the civil right concerns about ability to track behaviors of innocent civilians…

The best analogy I have is stalking. If I take a picture of you in public – it’s a protected right. If I follow you around in public (assuming you’re not a movie star) and take pictures it soon becomes stalking and no longer a protected right…

While LPRs are not “following us around”, the data from multiple days and multiple LPRs ARE essentially following us…


Now add business into the equation

The companies that push plate readers enjoy unregulated autonomy in most states. Vigilant Solutions of California and its partner, Texas-based Digital Recognition Network, boast at least 2 billion license-plate scans since starting the country’s largest private license-plate database, the National Vehicle Location Service, in 2009.

Cop Driving

In 2014 police in Tempe, Arizona, refused an offer from Vigilant for free LPR cameras. Why? The catch: Every month, officers would have to serve 25 warrants from a list supplied by Vigilant. Miss the quota, lose the cameras. Such lists, according to the Los Angeles Times’ investigation that uncovered the offer, commonly come from debt-collector “warrants” against drivers with unpaid municipal fines.

So suddenly the systems are free and the data is really valuable…

Miss your car payments or jump bail and perhaps a database search of your frequently used license plates will locate you and your habits.

States are not equal in LPR laws; some strong on retention times, others much more lax. Retention ranges from 24 hours to unlimited…

LPR Laws

So what’s the future of LPRs and public/private data? Many suggest it’s a matter of time before a lawsuit challenges these system’s collection and protection private data. Could your company buy a data set and compare it against your morning start times? Could your insurance company seek to determine how often, how far and where you really drive? Could a divorce attorney use travel patterns as proof of infidelity?

You need only visit the vigilant solutions site to realize the potentials of this data both good and bad…

USA points


As you drive around this week “Say Cheese” :^)

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