California Supreme Court to hear case on disclosure of automated license plate data

The Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is pleased that the California Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case regarding the disclosure of automated license plate data. SPJ NorCal joined the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and several California news organizations in filing amicus briefs, urging the court to hear this case.

The lawsuit is brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and seeks to obtain automated license plate data collected by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s and Police Departments over the course of one week. These law enforcement agencies gather data from millions of vehicles every week and have argued that the data can be withheld from disclosure under the California Public Records Act as “records of law enforcement investigations.”

SPJ NorCal believes that data about the indiscriminate mass surveillance conducted by automated license plate readers is necessary for public understanding and debate about the issue, and that exempting this data from disclosure under the California Public Records Act could inhibit journalists’ ability to access other law enforcement data through public records requests. “The disclosure of the records at issue is necessary to inform the public about law enforcement activities and crucial to a meaningful public discussion on the use and retention of [automated license plate reader] data,” attorney Cherokee Melton wrote in SPJ NorCal’s amicus letter.

SPJ NorCal supports the efforts of civil liberties organizations like EFF and the ACLU in their fight for transparency. The full text of SPJ NorCal’s amicus letter is below. To support SPJ NorCal’s litigation fund, which provides the financial resources necessary for the organization to participate in cases like this one, please contact SPJ NorCal Freedom of Information Committee co-chair Thomas Peele at

Download this pdf to read the amicus letter in full.