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In cities across the country, local police departments and other law enforcement agencies are installing automated license plate readers that create databases of location information about individual cars and their drivers. These readers can be mounted by the side of a busy road, scanning every car that rolls by, or on the dash of a police car, allowing officers to drive through and scan all the plates in a parking lot.

In Washington, D. In Los Angeles, more than two dozen different law enforcement agencies operate license plate readers to collect over million data points. This surveillance is untargeted, recording the movements of any car passes by. On top of all this, the FBI is one of just a few dozen public agencies that has an authorization to fly a drone in the U. There is no evidence at this time that they are actively pursuing or using a specific device. But we do know that other branches of the federal government, namely the Department of Homeland Security DHS , are conducting drone surveillance along the U.

EFF has sued DHS for more information about that program , but in the meantime, as with the redacted documents, information about their use in surveillance remains frustratingly opaque. This is just the latest example of the Obama administration trying to interpret public laws in secret without adequately informing its citizens. In addition, the ACLU has sued the Obama administration for its legal opinion stating it can kill US citizens overseas, away from the battlefield.

Of course, law enforcement needs the ability to conduct investigations. But explaining to the public how it generally conducts surveillance puts no one in danger, and compromises no investigations. This information is vital to know if law enforcement is complying with the law and constitution.

A look Inside an FBI Surplus Surveillance Van

Join EFF Lists. Electronic Frontier Foundation. Commentary by Parker Higgins and Trevor Timm.

License Plate Readers In cities across the country, local police departments and other law enforcement agencies are installing automated license plate readers that create databases of location information about individual cars and their drivers. Drone Authorization On top of all this, the FBI is one of just a few dozen public agencies that has an authorization to fly a drone in the U. Ask if you are free to leave.

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If the officer says yes, calmly and silently walk away. If you are under arrest, you have a right to know why. You have the right to remain silent and cannot be punished for refusing to answer questions.

If you wish to remain silent, tell the officer out loud. Ask if you are required to identify yourself if instructed to do so. Local laws may require you to identify yourself. You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings, but an officer may "pat down" your clothing if they suspect a weapon.

You should not physically resist, but you have the right to refuse consent for any further search.


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If you are stopped in your car Stop the car in a safe place as quickly as possible. Turn off the car, turn on the internal light, open the window part way and place your hands on the wheel.

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Upon request, show your driver's license, registration and proof of insurance. If an officer asks to look inside your car, you can refuse to consent to the search. But if an officer believes your car contains evidence, your car can be searched without your consent. Both drivers and passengers have the right to remain silent. If you are a passenger, you can ask if you are free to leave.

Police vehicles in the United States and Canada

If the officer says yes, sit silently or calmly leave. If police, immigration or FBI agents come to your home You do not have to let them in unless they have certain kinds of warrants. Ask the officer to slip the warrant under the door or hold it up to the window so you can inspect it. A search warrant allows an officer to enter the address listed on the warrant, but officers can only search for the item listed in the location listed. An arrest warrant allows an officer to enter the home of the person listed on the warrant if they believe the person is inside.

A warrant of removal or deportation ICE warrant does not allow officers to enter a home without consent. Even if the officers have a warrant, you have the right to remain silent. If you choose to speak to the officers, step outside and close the door. Tell the agent you want to speak to a lawyer first. If you are asked to meet with an FBI agent for an interview, you have the right to say you do not want to be interviewed.