IE11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Groups Ask CA Law Enforcement to Stop Sharing Location Data

Civil rights advocates have warned that law enforcement could share the locations of drivers from other states who have come to California to seek abortions, which could lead to prosecution.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and California’s American Civil Liberties Union chapters asked 71 California law enforcement agencies, including the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, to stop sharing drivers’ location data with agencies in anti-abortion states. According to documents published by the EFF as a result of a public records request, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office shares automated license plate reader (ALPR) information with hundreds of other agencies, including those in states that have bans on abortion.

“It would be relatively easy for an investigator who’s looking to prosecute someone for getting an abortion in California to query the address of an abortion clinic in the state of California,” said Jennifer Pinsof, staff attorney for EFF. The data would reveal vehicles that are parked near the clinic, including doctors, patients, and others visiting the facility to out-of-state investigators.

She said prosecutors could use the ALPR databases to find people who have crossed state lines for abortions, which are banned or restricted in more than 20 states after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision in 2022.

The ALPR systems are cameras fixed to traffic signals and on top of police cars that collect photos and data uploaded to databases.

“These are camera systems that capture license plate numbers and upload times, dates and locations where the plates were seen in massive searchable databases. This can be stored in those databases for months or even years,” said Pinsof.

She said the practice of sharing the data collected violates two state laws, SB34 and AB1242.

In a news release Thursday, the EFF and the Northern and Southern California ACLU chapters wrote that the two state laws “prohibit sharing of information with out-of-state entities about the provision of abortion care.”

One of the state laws, SB34, was passed in 2016 and regulates ALPR data, requiring California state agencies to follow certain privacy protections that don’t apply out of state. In other words, it regulates how agencies can use data collected by ALPR cameras.

“It’s a massive surveillance system,” she added.

AB 1242 was passed as a response to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the Roe v. Wade decision and protects the data of abortion seekers.

Samantha Karges, public information officer for Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, said in an email that HCSO very recently was made aware of the letter and would not be able to make the Times-Standard deadline to answer questions.

The news release is a result of an EFF investigation that involved dozens of agencies and collecting public record requests. Readers can find the agencies the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office shares data with online on the EFF website.

(c)2023 Times-Standard, Eureka, Calif. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.