As part of an ongoing effort by the ACLU nationwide, the Iowa affiliate in August 2012 sent out open records requests to state agencies, county sheriffs, and larger cities’ police departments, asking for information on the use of automatic license plate readers.

August 1, 2012

The controversial devices are most often mounted on patrol cars, although they may also be placed on telephone poles or other stationary objects. They can sweep 360 degrees, capturing images of every license plate they encounter. The data is then fed into a massive database for use and analysis. Information collected includes precise location, time, and date of each plate.

Such massive data collection over time represents a potential threat to the privacy of innocent Iowans. As data is accumulated over months or years, it can be used to learn where a car has been over the course of any particular day. So the ACLU wants to find out more about how law enforcement and other agencies use the devices. It also wants to know how they store, access, and share the data.

“We are seeking more information about how Iowa police are using this new technology because it poses a number of privacy concerns to civil libertarians. We want to know if and how police are tracking and recording the movements of Iowa drivers,” said Ben Stone, ACLU of Iowa executive director.

The following police departments, county sheriff’s offices, and state offices were included in the request:

  • Ames Police Department
  • Cedar Falls Police Department
  • Cedar Rapids Police Department
  • Coralville Police Department
  • Davenport Police Department
  • Des Moines Police Department
  • Iowa City Police Department
  • Iowa Department of Public Safety
  • Iowa Department of Transportation
  • Iowa State Patrol
  • Johnson County Sheriff’s Office
  • Linn County Sheriff’s Office
  • Polk County Sheriff’s Office
  • Sioux City Police Department
  • Waterloo Police Department
  • West Des Moines Police Department