For years, police nationwide have used patrol car-mounted scanners to automatically photograph and log the whereabouts of peoples’ cars, uploading the images into databases they’ve used to identify suspects in crimes from theft to murder.

Nowadays, they are also increasingly buying access to expansive databases run by private companies whose repo men and tow-truck drivers photograph license plates of vehicles every day.

Civil libertarians and lawmakers are raising concerns about the latest practice, arguing that there are few, if any, protections against abuse and that the private databases go back years at a time when agencies are limiting how long such information is stored.

Some argue police should get a warrant from a judge to access the databases, much as they would if they wanted to obtain emails.

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