Victory! Grand Jury Finds Sacramento Cops Illegally Shared Driver Data

For the past year, EFF has been sounding the alarm about police in California illegally sharing drivers' location data with anti-abortion states, putting abortion seekers and providers at risk of prosecution. We thus applaud the Sacramento County Grand Jury for hearing this call and investigating two police agencies that had been unlawfully sharing this data out-of-state.

The grand jury, a body of 19 residents charged with overseeing local government including law enforcement, released their investigative report on Wednesday. In it, they affirmed that the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office and Sacramento Police Department violated state law and "unreasonably risked" aiding the potential prosecution of "women who traveled to California to seek or receive healthcare services."

In May 2023, EFF, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, sent letters to 71 California police agencies demanding that they stop sharing automated license plate reader (ALPR) data with law enforcement agencies in other states. This sensitive location information can reveal where individuals work, live, worship, and seek medical care—including reproductive health services. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade with its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, ALPR data has posed particular risks to those who seek or assist abortions that have been criminalized in their home states.

Since 2016, California law has prohibited sharing ALPR data with out-of-state or federal law enforcement agencies. Despite this, dozens of rogue California police agencies continued sharing this information with other states, even after the state's attorney general issued legal guidance in October "reminding" them to stop.

In Sacramento County, both the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office and the Sacramento Police Department have dismissed calls for them to start obeying the law. Last year, the Sheriff's Office even claimed on Twitter that EFF's concerns were part "a broader agenda to promote lawlessness and prevent criminals from being held accountable." That agency, at least, seems to have had a change of heart: The Sacramento County Grand Jury reports that, after they began investigating police practices, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office agreed to stop sharing ALPR data with out-of-state law enforcement agencies.

The Sacramento Police Department, however, has continued to share ALPR data with out-of-state agencies. In their report, the grand jury calls for the department to comply with the California Attorney General's legal guidance. The grand jury also recommends that all Sacramento law enforcement agencies make their ALPR policies available to the public in compliance with the law.

As the grand jury's report notes, EFF and California's ACLU affiliates "were among the first" organizations to call attention to police in the state illegally sharing ALPR data. While we are glad that many police departments have since complied with our demands that they stop this practice, we remain committed to bringing attention and pressure to agencies, like the Sacramento Police Department, that have not. In January, for instance, EFF and the ACLU sent a letter urging the California Attorney General to enforce the state's ALPR laws.

For nearly a decade, EFF has been investigating and raising the alarm about the illegal mass-sharing of ALPR data by California law enforcement agencies. The grand jury's report details what is just the latest in a series of episodes in which Sacramento agencies violated the law with ALPR. In December 2018, the Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance terminated its program after public pressure resulting from EFF's revelation that the agency was accessing ALPR data in violation of the law. The next year, EFF successfully lobbied the state legislature to order an audit of four agencies, including the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office, and how they use ALPR. The result was a damning report that the sheriff had fallen short of many of the basic requirements under state law.

Thursday 27th June 2024 9:55 pm

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