Local Police Can Track Your Car's Every Movement

Questions have been raised about whether the information obtained through the Oakland Police Department's license plate cameras is too accessible.

License-plate-reading cameras over highway. (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Mar 24, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Ashley Jakubczyk is an editorial intern for TakePart.com and a graduate student at Harvard University. She has also written for Thought Catalog,The Daily Bruin,The Daily Breeze, and Peninsula People magazine.

Big Brother is watching you...in the Bay Area, at least.

Using 33 automated license plate readers, dubbed LPRs, law enforcement officials in the San Francisco–adjacent city of Oakland, California, now have a pretty good idea of where drivers spend a good chunk of their time. The cameras collect data from their strategically placed lookout points all over the city, allowing license plate movement to be tracked back through the past five years, according to tech publication Ars Technica.

That means in Oakland, police can figure out what each vehicle's daily commute might be or what places a driver frequents.

Within seconds of searching a database, law enforcement can guess with alarming accuracy where you live—right down to the city block. Ars Technica used a public records request to obtain access to Oakland's license plate reader database.

The data set, kept by the Oakland Police Department, includes more than 4.6 million license plate reads from 1.1 million unique plates. The data was collected between Dec. 23, 2010, and May 31, 2014.

Physicist Howard Matis, who works at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in nearby Berkeley Hills, expressed privacy concerns to Ars Technica, saying that he was uncomfortable that media sources were able to obtain this information.

“To me, that is something that is kind of scary. Why do they allow people to release this without a law enforcement reason?” Matis told Ars Technica. “Searching it or accessing the information should require a warrant.”

Whether you’re for or against law enforcement’s ability to track your every move, the technology is here and is increasingly being put to use. Is America ready for a state where police can track every move?