A recently filed lawsuit accuses Digital Recognition Network of covertly collecting vehicle data on millions of Americans and selling it for a profit.
On May 26, several vehicle owners sued the company Digital Recognition Network (DRN) for using its fleet of unmarked surveillance vehicles to collect data on Americans. The plaintiffs claim that DRN has driven its vehicles around United States and covertly gathered data on unsuspecting Americans while reaping profits.
Courthouse News reports that DRN has “amassed more than 20 billion license plate scans — equal to 70 scans for every vehicle in the nation.” The Class Action Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial was filed by plaintiff Guillermo Mata in response to DRN’s use of automatic license plate reader (ALPRs) systems. ALPRs are used to gather license plate, time, date and location of a vehicle. They can also be used to create a detailed map of where an individual travels and what they are doing with their time. The devices can be attached to light poles or toll booths, as well as on top of or inside vehicles.
The lawsuit alleges, “Defendant DRN created a nationwide surveillance program that tracks vehicle’s movements and, in turn, individuals’ locations.” The plaintiffs also claim that DRN “stores all of the amassed information in a proprietary database and makes it available to anyone willing to pay for access to it.”
The claim states that DRN’s “privately-owned surveillance network” is its fleet of “unmarked vehicles that patrol America’s roadways, equipped with high-speed cameras that allow them to capture photos of license plates, together with the time and location data of the photographed vehicles.”
After collecting the data DRN applies its proprietary algorithm to scan the data and make predictions about where the vehicle is traveling and where the vehicle may be located a future time. The plaintiffs argue that because DRN’s cameras are attached to moving vehicles they are difficult to see and “nearly unavoidable”. Further, the individuals being scanned by the cameras are not subjects of any law enforcement investigations, nor are they part of state or federal watchlists. DRN has also failed to reasonably notify the public they are under constant surveillance by the network of vehicles outfitted with this technology.
DRN openly advertises their ability to collect “vehicle stories” that contain location and time data that can reveal private information that individuals may not wish to be public. The complaint states that, “DRN can reveal whether an individual has recently visited an abortion clinic, a cancer treatment clinic, a religious center, or an LGBT community center, thus giving insight into one’s health and medical history, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation.”
Digital Recognition Network uses the Reaper HD camera to gather this data from unsuspecting drivers. The Reaper is manufactured and sold by Motorola who describes it as a “complete, fixed solution” which allows users to “receive real-time alerts, conduct comprehensive searches and leverage advanced analytics to uncover new insights and operate more efficiently.”
The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in the hopes that the court will find that DRN’s surveillance program is in violation of current California law. In 2016, California passed a law regulating and limiting the use of ALPRs. When passing the law California legislators acknowledged the breadth of privacy concerns associated with the technology. These concerns include:
- The collection of a license plate number, location, and time stamp over multiple time points can identify not only a person’s exact whereabouts but also their pattern of movement.
- Unlike other types of personal information that are covered by existing law, civilians are not always aware when their ALPR data is being collected.
- One does not even need to be driving to be subject to ALPR technology: A car parked on the side of the road can be scanned by an ALPR system.