The Danger of License Plate Readers in Post-Roe America


Motorola Solutions did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication.

Stanley says ALPRs are more concentrated in metropolitan areas, but are also common in rural areas. If someone is traveling out of state to get an abortion, police could likely repeatedly identify where their license plate was scanned during the trip and the time it was scanned. With that information, they may be able to sketch out the person’s travel patterns. The police do not need a warrant to obtain this information because the license plates are out in the open and anyone can see them, which is not necessary when the police want to get someone’s location data from their phone or use some other means of tracking.

“The denser the ALPR scanners are, the more they look like GPS tracking,” says Stanley.

After the abortion seeker leaves the state, the police department can look up license plate information in another state through private databases, or they could obtain the information through the police department in that state. Police departments across the country regularly share ALPR data with each other, and the data is often shared with little oversight.

“A huge problem is that people share data without thinking about who they’re sharing it with and why,” says Dave Maass, director of research for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Maass notes that police aren’t the only ones who could use ALPR data to track people seeking abortion access. Thanks to the passage of Texas Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), he says anti-abortion groups could use license plate data in lawsuits against a whole range of people. That law allows anyone in the U.S. to sue abortion providers, anyone who “aids or abets” someone seeking an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected (usually around six weeks) — or anyone who intends to help someone have one. illegal abortion in the state. . Anti-abortion groups have also been known to write down the license plate numbers of people at abortion clinics over the years, Maass notes, so they may even have a license plate database already available to them that they can search.

“One of the things that worries me is this large private database operated by DRN Data. It’s not necessarily law enforcement, but individual actors who may be trying to enforce abortion laws under things like Texas SB 8,” says Maass.

DRN Data manages the license plate reader database that receives data from repo trucks and other vehicles equipped with ALPRs. (DNR data has not yet responded to WIRED’s request for comment.) Regardless of who operates them, there is no shortage of license plate scanners, and Maass and Stanley say it would be extremely difficult for someone seeking an abortion to avoid being under supervision along the way.

“You can take Uber, but that will create a different data trail. You can rent a car, but that’s a different data trail. You could ride the bus, but that’s a different data trail,” says Maass.



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