California police share license plate data with anti-abortion states

Civil liberties groups told police in 71 California communities Thursday that they must stop sharing automated license plate information with law enforcement agencies in other states that could use the data to track people seeking or They provide abortions.

Providing license plate data to out-of-state law enforcement agencies has been prohibited by California law since 2016 and has grown more dangerous since last June, when the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion that Electronic Frontier had declared in 1973. Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union said in letters to local governments. Eleven of the law enforcement agencies targeted by the groups are in the Bay Area: eight in Contra Costa County, two in Marin County and one, Gilroy, in Santa Clara County.

It was the latest in a series of moves by reproductive rights advocates and state legislators to make California a haven for people seeking abortions in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling last June.

State laws enacted since the ruling provide abortion funds to women who travel to California for reproductive care and prohibit the execution of subpoenas from other states seeking information about abortions in California. Another new law, AB1242 by Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, D-Orinda, prohibits law enforcement agencies in the state from providing information to an agency in another state about a legal abortion in California.

In letters Thursday, advocacy groups said police in other states that use license plate data to find vehicles in California “may try to use that information to monitor abortion clinics and closely track the movements of those seeking abortions and providers. This threatens even those who obtain or provide abortions in California, as several anti-abortion states plan to criminalize and prosecute those who seek or assist in abortions out of state.”

“Sharing data (automatic license plate readers) with law enforcement in states that criminalize abortion undermines California’s broad efforts to protect reproductive health privacy,” said Jennifer Pinsof, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Automatic license plate readers are high-speed cameras used by police to record license plate numbers and locations and store them in a database. The 2016 law, SB34 by Senator Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, prohibited government agencies from sharing the data with anyone except a state or local government in California.

SB34 supporters said the data, collected from tens of millions of license scans by law enforcement, raises privacy concerns and could be used to trace drivers to drug clinics, doctor’s offices or sites of political protests. . Civil liberties groups relied on the law to sue the Marin County sheriff for passing license plate data to federal immigration agencies, a lawsuit the county settled last June by agreeing to stop the practice.

In related legislation, Sen. Nancy Skinner’s SB345, which is awaiting a plenary vote in the state Senate, would make it a crime for a California bail bondsman to detain someone wanted by another state for performing or receiving an abortion, or gender- affirm care for a transgender person, that’s legal in California.

And in Congress, Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-San Diego, has reintroduced legislation she calls the My Body, My Data Act, which would prohibit tech companies from sharing personal health information collected from private apps. , like the ones women use to track their menstrual cycles.

“As Republican-led states are frantic to ban or severely restrict access to abortion care…it has never been more urgent to protect our sexual and reproductive health data,” Jacobs said in a statement Thursday. The bill, supported by abortion rights groups, is similar to legislation Jacobs sponsored last year that failed to reach the full House.

Pinsof said civil liberties groups sent public records requests to hundreds of city and county governments in California and received responses from 71 local governments that said they were sharing license plate data with other states.

In addition to Gilroy, Bay Area communities include Antioch, Brentwood, Hercules, Novato, Oakley, Pittsburg, San Pablo, San Rafael, San Ramon, and Walnut Creek. The list also includes sheriff’s offices in El Dorado, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Orange and Riverside counties.

The same letter was sent to Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office, which could enforce state law against local governments. The Chronicle asked Bonta’s office for comment but did not immediately get a response.

Contact Bob Egelko: [email protected]; Twitter: @BobEgelko