Myrtle Beach License Readers allow SLED to run unauthorized spying operation

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David Huckshttps://myrtlebeachsc.com
David Hucks is a 12th generation descendant of the area we now call Myrtle Beach, S.C. David attended Coastal Carolina University and like most of his family, has never left the area. David is the lead journalist at MyrtleBeachSC.com

A lawsuit being filed by Greenville, S.C. based the Carpenter Law firm requests that the South Carolina Supreme Court look into an unauthorized license plate tag reader spying operation being conducted by the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division.

Legislation approving such a spying operation has never been passed by the South Carolina General Assembly. However, the State of South Carolina is currently funding the unauthorized SLED data collection through discretionary funds paid to the agency through the S.C. House general discretionary budget funding.

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The operation begins when any tourist or local is stopped in cities, like Myrtle Beach, at a traffic light. Cameras inside the traffic lights take a picture of the car’s license plate each time a car stops at any time at any traffic light inside that city.

If you go by the LPR (license plate reader), it takes a photograph of your vehicle and of the license plate,” former Myrtle Beach Police Lt. Joey Crosby said.

This is something he said police use every day. Their purpose is to prevent violent crime and catch suspects.

If you are wanted, or the car is associated with a violent crime, we then receive a hit or a notification from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division,” Crosby said. “The dispatcher then gives the message to the officers and the officers are on the lookout for the vehicle.

If you are NOT wanted, however, the data is still collected and stored.

 In an email to our news organization, City of Myrtle Beach Public Information Officer, Mark Kruea told MyrtleBeachSC News, “SLED is the keeper of the license plate reader images and data.

Recent City of Myrtle Beach license plate readers were funded by a Department of Justice grant for $37,000. Eight new license plate readers were placed on Highway 17 Bypass near the Myrtle Beach International Airport and on Farrow Parkway in March 2019.

As of 2019, the total number of cameras inside the City of Myrtle Beach was 899.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE DATA IF YOU ARE INNOCENTLY CAPTURED?

An opinion piece in the State Newspaper reads:

When you drive on South Carolina roads, you’re being tracked.

We’re not talking about tech companies selling your location data (though that happens too). We’re talking about the sprawling network of surveillance cameras – called Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPRs) – that blanket our state’s roads. Through these discrete devices, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) captures an average of 400,000 images every single day. Only a small fraction of these photos are useful for law enforcement, but every single image – along with time and location data – is stored in a database that already holds more than 400 million license plate snapshots.

Imagine being tracked by these readers. At 8:32 a.m., an ALPR captured you at the intersection by your house. And at 9:17 a.m., another saw you pass by the police car in front of your church. The readers tracked you when you went to that political rally, stopped to buy ammunition for your hunting weekend, and went to your doctor’s appointment.

Each time you passed an ALPR, your license plate was checked against a “hot list” of stolen vehicles, wanted persons, and the like. But because your plate didn’t come back “hot,” you went on with your day. Meanwhile, your location data was stored indefinitely – each time without your knowledge or consent.

As you might imagine, ALPRs pose a serious threat to privacy and other civil liberties. As a federal judge observed in a GPS tracking case:

A person who knows all of another’s travels can deduce whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups — and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts.

As more cameras are added and SLED’s image bank grows, law enforcement (and potentially other actors) become increasingly capable of using ALPRs to construct detailed pictures of our lives. All this is done without a warrant, without suspicion of wrongdoing, and without any oversight whatsoever.

South Carolina’s ALPR scheme is particularly problematic. Unlike in other states, SLED stores its ALPR data for multiple years and grants virtually unlimited access to federal, state, and local law enforcement. In fact, SLED allows more than 2,000 law enforcement officers from at least 99 agencies to search its data without assurances that those searches relate to legitimate law enforcement activity.

Fewer limits on our ALPR data means a greater likelihood of abuse. Nationally, we’ve already seen officers misuse ALPR data, including to stalk their partners or spy on citizens, the Associated Press reported. ALPRs have even been used, at the request of federal agents, to secretly gather information about gun show attendees, the Wall Street Journal reported.

If you’re thinking, “Who signed off on this?” you’re not alone. That question is at the core of a new lawsuit filed in the state Supreme Court on behalf of the SC Public Interest Foundation and a Greenville resident, John Sloan.

The lawsuit shows that SLED created this program by itself, without legislative authorization, and without the restraints or oversight. That means that important questions like – where do cameras go?, how many pictures do they take?, which pictures are stored and for how long?, and who has access to the database? – are answered without any democratic process or political accountability.

Limits imposed by lawmakers in other states show that political influence matters. In North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Arkansas, elected officials have dramatically limited what images can be saved, how long ALPR data can be retained, and who has access to the information.

These limits did not erupt organically from the minds of law enforcement – they were insisted upon by voters and lawmakers. But in SC, because SLED is operating outside its legal authority, there isn’t a clear legislative path to place guardrails on this extensive and constitutionally questionable system. This new lawsuit could change that.

South Carolina law does not give SLED carte blanche to secretly surveil law abiding citizens. If SLED wants to engage in this practice, they need consent of the governed. And even if elected officials agree to some version of this practice, public transparency and political oversight will hopefully ensure that SC doesn’t devolve into the unaccountable surveillance state SLED is leading us into.

Allen Chaney is a resident of Greenville and is the legal director for the ACLU of South Carolina.

WHO GETS TO KEEP THE DATA? – CAN THE MEDIA SEE IT?

The data is shared among local, state and Federal agencies.

MyrtleBeachSC News reached out to Audrey O. Brown, Freedom of Information Office, SLED asking for all license plates read around 10 a.m. on November 8, 2022. Nov. 8th was the date Myrtle Beach residents voted in the midterm elections.

We specifically asked for plates that could be read near voting precincts. We wanted our readers to know how easy it is for SLED to know who is voting, when you are voting, and where you are voting.

We received the below from her. It specifically states: Version 5.9 clearly prohibit the release of all Criminal Justice Information Systems (CJIS) information such as the information you have requested to non-law enforcement sources such as yourself.

ALPR Response Letter (Signed) 12-14-22 by MyrtleBeachSC news on Scribd

BUT THE STATE GOVERNMENT AND THE FEDS HAVE THIS DATA

Elon Musk’s release of the Twitter Files have been an indictment on what U.S. and local governments can do with our private information. This is true especially in the areas of censorship.

FBI – THE SPIES WHO LOVED TWITTER REVEALED

THE DANGERS OF CROSS CHANNEL COLLUSION, CENSORSHIP, and SPYING

When SLED and the FBI have this data, an inherent danger exists. The release of the Twitter files show that the Feds are clearly using this data to profile U.S. citizens now.

When the FBI works this closely with Facebook, Google, and other tech platforms on behalf of the government, censorship of the truth is a natural end result.

MyrtleBeachSC News specifically asked S.C. House Speaker Murrell Smith to take this matter up during the next session of the S.C. General Assembly for a vote.

The S.C. legislative session begins January 3, 2023.

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