Surveillance camera. / Image via Shutterstock

At the time Carlsbad’s new license plate readers were installed on police cars and at intersections around the city, it wasn’t clear just who had access to the city’s data. Records collected by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy group, sheds some light on the police department’s policies.

During the eight months of 2017 that the cameras were online, Carlsbad police logged nearly 8.4 million license plate records. These records were submitted to a database controlled by Vigilant Solutions that’s also known as National Vehicle Location Services and accessed by over 500 law enforcement agencies around the country. Carlsbad also directly shared its data with 125 law enforcement agencies.

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Some of the vehicles in the records could appear more than once. Each time someone drives by any of the city’s 14 intersections or six police cars equipped with cameras, the system records the license plate number, date and location of the encounter.

Vigilant Solutions is one of the largest providers of license plate reading technology and collects license plate data from agencies and private companies from around the nation. The company’s materials say it encourages law enforcement agencies to share their data, but each agency decides who can access the records they submit.

Information provided to the EFF by Carlsbad shows that the police department mostly shared its data with local and county law enforcement across several states. But Carlsbad has also shared its license plate records with at least two federal agencies, including the U.S. Marshals Service, part of the Department of Justice.

While that data-sharing helps provide police with information about suspected criminals who travel between jurisdictions, it’s also given rise to concerns that data collected by police is being shared with other agencies that weren’t intended to see it, via an intermediate, partnering agency.

As the online magazine Slate wrote this week, federal immigration authorities don’t need to cast their own net to conduct investigations: They can use information collected by local police departments to make arrests across California.

Questions directed at Carlsbad’s City Council members went unanswered.

“It is important for the community to know, concerns about privacy are always part of the law enforcement discussion,” said Jodee Reyes, a police spokesperson. “We do our best to balance those concerns while using the best available tool to help ensure public safety.”

“We do not share (license plate reader) data with federal agencies who focus their enforcement efforts on immigration,” she added. “Further, we only share information as permitted by law.”

Of the 8.4 million records that Carlsbad police compiled, 2,358 matched against the city’s list of vehicles that are part of investigations, including “stolen vehicles, Amber alerts, missing persons, felon vehicles, and more,” according to a report presented to the City Council when it considered buying the cameras last year.

That’s about 0.03 percent of all license plate data collected by the Carlsbad police being used for an active investigation.

Solana Beach Pioneers Community Choice Energy

Solana Beach has become the first city in the county to offer a program allowing residents to buy power from completely renewable sources.

The Coast News reports that the Solana Beach City Council voted 3-1 to establish a community choice energy program, dubbed Solana Energy Alliance, which will offer energy at rates slightly below San Diego Gas and Electric. SDG&E currently gets about 43 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

Mayor Ginger Marshall cast the lone vote against forming a community choice energy program, saying, in part, that she would have preferred to join forces with the other cities that are exploring a common program.

Encinitas is pioneering an effort that also includes Del Mar, Carlsbad and Oceanside to possibly develop a joint community choice energy program. It would help those cities meet their greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Oceanside Moving Forward with Medical Pot

Rules to allow medical marijuana businesses in Oceanside are headed to the City Council with the Planning Commission’s unanimous support.

The rules are a slight departure from the findings of the City Council ad-hoc subcommittee that was formed to craft an initial set of recommendations. The Union-Tribune reports that the Planning Commission wanted more permissive rules, but city staffers presented a slightly more cautious set of regulations.

The two big holdups were commercial recreational cannabis, which would still be banned under the proposed rules, and the number of dispensaries allowed. The ad-hoc subcommittee, and the Planning Commission, wanted to see four dispensaries allowed in the city, but the rules headed to the City Council only permit two.

Also in the News

Carlsbad City Councilman Michael Schumacher won’t seek reelection, clearing the way for the only candidate in District 3, Priya Bhat-Patel. (The Coast News)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has begun reviewing an interim storage site in New Mexico, which could lead to getting San Onofre’s waste off the coast. (KPBS)

This whole dockless bike-share craze in San Diego may be headed to North County. (Union-Tribune)

The lawsuit against Escondido over its approval of the Country Club development may be at an end, clearing the way for the project to finally get built. (Union-Tribune)

Encinitas is looking at raising the number of affordable units that developers of large residential projects would be required to build. (The Coast News)

With San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond running for County Supervisor, City Councilman Chris Orlando and Councilwoman Rebecca Jones are running to replace him. (Union-Tribune)

Ruarri Serpa is a freelance writer in Oceanside. Email him at and find him on Twitter at @RuarriS.

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