SAN FRANCISCO—Community activists in Northern California today announced a settlement in their lawsuit against the County of Marin and Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle, whose office illegally made the license plate and location information of local drivers, captured by a network of surveillance cameras, available to hundreds of federal and out-of-state agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Under the settlement, Sheriff Doyle has agreed to stop sharing license plate and location information with agencies outside of California to comply with state laws S.B. 34 and the California Values Act (S.B. 54). This means that federal and out-of-state agencies will no longer be able to query information collected by the county’s automated license plate reader (ALPR) cameras—a form of mass surveillance technology that is a threat to privacy and civil liberties, particularly for marginalized groups. The settlement is binding for any of Sheriff Doyle’s successors.
ALPR cameras scan tens of thousands of passing cars every month, recording their license plate number, date, time, and location. This information can be used to identify and track people, revealing where they live and work, when they visit friends or drop off their kids at school, and when and where they attend religious services or protests. When shared with ICE and CBP, the data facilitates the tracking, deportation, and incarceration of immigrant communities.
“This settlement is a victory for disfavored and marginalized people, including immigrants, who historically have been subjected to civil rights abuses through invasive surveillance by police,” said Vasudha Talla, Immigrants’ Rights Program Director at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California.
“It comes at an especially important time for civil liberties in California, which stands to become a refuge for marginalized groups, such as people seeking abortions or gender-affirming care, who find that their identities and rights are under attack in other states,” Talla explained. “Invasive and harmful surveillance should have no place in California communities, and this settlement is a step toward eliminating its harms.”
Longtime Marin community members Lisa Bennett, Cesar S. Lagleva, and Tara Evans filed the suit in Marin County Superior Court on Oct. 14, 2021, seeking to end the sheriff’s ALPR data-sharing practices.
“While we are glad to have achieved the core goal of our lawsuit, we remain concerned that Sheriff Doyle violated these state laws for so long and with so little transparency,” said Bennett. “In light of this violation of public trust, we are calling on the Marin County Board of Supervisors to establish an oversight body to ensure continued accountability.”
“We are pleased that Sheriff Doyle has agreed that California law prohibits the sharing of ALPR data with entities outside of California,” said Saira Hussain, Staff Attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “This logic applies to other agencies throughout the state. They should follow Marin County’s example.”
The plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU Foundations of Northern California, Southern California, and San Diego & Imperial Counties, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and attorney Michael T. Risher.
For the agreement:
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