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Sacramento has been tracking license plates to monitor welfare recipients

Sacramento has been tracking license plates to monitor welfare recipients
[Photo: lvdzwaag/Pixabay]

Sacramento County officials have been tracking the license plates of welfare recipients in the hopes of catching potential fraud, according to a new report in the Sacramento Bee.

The license plate monitoring program, which the ACLU warned us about, snaps photos of license plates when the cars they are attached to make their way past telephone poles and police cars, letting officials track the location of vehicles. Welfare fraud investigators working with the Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance (DHA) pay $5,000 a year for access to the license plate reader database to track those welfare recipients they suspect of fraud. This isn’t new, either: They’ve been doing it since 2016.

It’s not immediately clear what welfare investigators are even hoping to do with the information they unearth by tracking license plates, but the Sacramento Bee reports the DHA accessed the data over a thousand times in two years.


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The Electronic Frontier Foundation revealed this surveillance two weeks ago, pointing out that under California law license plate data cannot be collected without a privacy policy that “is consistent with respect for individuals’ privacy and civil liberties.” Until the EFF called them out, the DHA did not have such a policy. Now, they have put one in place to ensure that investigators could justify their requests for the license-plate tracking data.

The use of such license plate tracking software is not only a potential violation of privacy rights, but is also an odd use of limited resources for a statistically rare phenomenon. In 2012, the DHA found only 500 cases of fraud among Sacramento’s 193,000 recipients.

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