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Journalist Cyrus Farivar on license plate surveillance

Journalist Cyrus Farivar knows a thing or two about surveillance. While reporting for Ars Technica, Farivar got the entire license plate reader dataset from the Oakland Police Department -- that’s all of the license plate scans they recorded and saved -- from December 2010 to May 2014. He says Oakland has no official policy for how long they keep all of that information. And, he says, it’s not the only problematic surveillance technique being used in the city, or across the state. Farivar came into our studios to talk about his reporting with KALW’s Sandhya Dirks. 

FARIVAR: This is a technology that can scan, at incredibly high speed, all of the license plates that it sees. So, armed with enough license plate readers, a police department could gather an incredible amount of information about cars as they drive around the city. That's one part. And then the second part is how this data is being used and how long it's being be kept for. Different cities take different standards as to how long they feel is an appropriate retention limit. In the case of Oakland, there actually is no formal retention limit.

Cyrus Farivar is the senior business editor at Ars Technica. You can find his reporting on surveillance in Oakland here.

Sandhya got her start as a reporting fellow at KALW, working on award winning radio documentaries about crime and justice and education in Oakland. She reported on the 2012 presidential election in Iowa, for Iowa Public Radio, where she also covered diversity and mental health issues.