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article imageCops to delete LPR data as 80GB hard drive 'keeps crashing'

By James Walker     Aug 26, 2015 in Technology
The Oakland Police Department has decided to delete license plate data after six months instead of retaining it indefinitely. The reason isn't really to give residents more privacy but rather because a Windows XP computer's 80GB hard drive is full.
Ars Technica reports on the unusual case based around the strict budget systems at the Oakland Police Department (OPD). Earlier this year, the news site published a feature disclosing that the OPD had stored more than 4.6 million license plate reads between December 23 2010 and May 31 2014.
Only 1.1 million plates were unique, suggesting that each citizen had been logged around four times. Currently, about 48,000 plates are logged each day by 33 camera vehicles that roam the city.
The force was keeping the data indefinitely and had no official policy on when it would be deleted. However, just weeks later, OPD unilaterally decided to delete all data older than six months. What could have been done in response to questions from citizens like "Do you know why Oakland is spying on me and my wife?" actually derives from the ancient IT infrastructure used by the OPD.
Sgt. Dave Burke, the controller of Oakland's license plate reader system, told Ars Technica that the change was not made based on the site's older article but actually because the database of plate records was stored on a Windows XP computer with a hard drive just 80GB in size.
The hard drive quickly filled up after storing the 4.6 million records between 2010 and 2014 and the computer "kept crashing". The force has had to impose a new policy of only keeping data for six months after recording it because buying a new hard drive isn't an option outside of the police department's budget cycle.
A 1TB hard drive can be bought for as little as $40 today. A 2TB unit with enough storage to collate years of records would cost the force less than $100. Burke explained that drives can only be bought from approved vendors where the city has a contract though and that even then "there has to be money in the budget".
Burke did concede one key point that has been argued by privacy advocates for years. He admitted: "Looking back at a year doesn't help you solve the case. There is no plan to store the data beyond six months. The investigators are not looking for data beyond six months. It does us no good to have these datasets if we do not mine them for intelligence."
For the time being, the OPD is sticking with its 80GB Windows XP computer then. Residents concerned about privacy can sleep a little easier in the knowledge that the force has finally admitted that keeping data older than six months "doesn't help" with law enforcement, although the conclusion has only been made because of the continuing legacy of ancient Windows XP computers.
More about Data, Windows, Windows xp, Storage, Hard drive
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