California: We Need Privacy When We Park Our Cars

Update: The California Senate voted down S.B. 712 on January 30, 2018. 

In the digital age, your license plate has become a tracking number.

Just as advertisers use browser cookies to spy on your Internet history, law enforcement and private companies record your license plate number to track your movements. They often use automated license plate readers to scrape this data from the roadway, capturing plate information from thousands of innocent drivers in a single sweep. Then they sell and share that data widely. 

Join EFF in supporting S.B. 712, a California bill that would allow drivers who seek privacy to cover their license plates when parked.

S.B. 712 would clear up a major inconsistency in state law: currently, a driver is allowed to cover their entire vehicle, including the license plate, to protect the car from the weather. It stands to reason: we should also be allowed to cover just the license plate when parked to protect our privacy from data collectors or those who seek us harm.

Already, we’ve seen license plate information used to target vulnerable communities. Police officers have used license plates to spy on Mosques and blackmail visitors to gay clubs. Anti-choice activists are trained to use license plates  to monitor patients and medical professionals at and around reproductive health centers. ICE is buying billions of license plate data points from a commercial vendor for use in deportation efforts. This technology has even been used by federal authorities to monitor gun show attendees.

Meanwhile, data brokers are turning our license plates into profit. One company boasts a database of 6.5-billion license plate scans that it sells to directly to financial institutions, insurance companies, and debt collectors.  

A bipartisan coalition in the California Senate Transportation & Housing Committee recently approved S.B. 712 on an 8-2 vote. Tell your state senator to follow their colleagues’ lead and vote YES on this vital measure. 

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 EFF uses the information you provide to help you take action in support of digital civil liberties, including submitting your message to support S.B. 712 to your representatives in the California Assembly and Senate. We will also add your name to a petition that civil liberties advocates may deliver to the California legislature and other decisionmakers to urge them to support this bill. We may work with coalition partners to execute the petition delivery. Learn more about EFF's privacy practices at https://eff.org/policy