San Diego judge denies request for license scans

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SAN DIEGO (AP) — A judge on Thursday tentatively denied a technology entrepreneur's request for license plate data collected on his own vehicle from police scanners, the latest legal setback for advocates seeking more disclosure on vast networks of law enforcement cameras used to track drivers' whereabouts.

San Diego's regional planning agency can deny Michael Robertson's request under California's open records law because the records pertain to law enforcement investigations, San Diego Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal wrote.

Robertson, a libertarian who founded and later sold the digital music service, sued the San Diego Association of Governments last year, saying the scanners are ripe for government abuse. The San Diego Police Department, San Diego County Sheriff's Department and eight other local police departments deploy cameras and feed scans into a system that keeps records for up to two years.

The decision came less than a month after another state judge denied a request by the ACLU of Southern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation for one week of records on all vehicles from the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Robertson, 47, argued that his request raised no concerns about privacy — a common argument against releasing records — because he was only seeking information on himself, not others. But the judge didn't consider privacy and instead focused on the potential to jeopardize criminal investigations.

Bacal said releasing records would allow criminals to identify camera locations, giving them a roadmap of which streets to avoid.

Granting Robertson's request "would create a precedent that these records are available to anyone requesting their records — including the very criminals seeking to discover and exploit weaknesses in the (license plate reader) system," she wrote.

Robertson has said his records shouldn't be considered part of a law enforcement file because he isn't a criminal suspect, at least as far as he knows.

His attorney, Paul Boylan, said the tentative ruling stretches the law enforcement exemption under the California Public Records Act too far and that he would appeal if Bacal upholds her decision. She was scheduled to hear arguments Friday.

The San Diego Association of Association of Governments argued that the scanners help locate stolen cars, missing children and people wanted by police and that storing records aids investigations. The county sheriff's department alone has fed 9.8 million scans into the system since it was introduced in April 2009.

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