Lawsuit says giant mall REITs are licensed to spy

Sweeping class action claims malls swipe data from vehicle plates

Los Angeles’s biggest mall landlords are beating back a consumer lawsuit related to license plate recognition technology
Los Angeles’s biggest mall landlords are beating back a consumer lawsuit related to license plate recognition technology

Los Angeles malls are largely closed now, but if they were open mall goers would be spied on.

That’s the main allegation in a lawsuit filed earlier this year, which moved this week into California federal court.

A proposed class action of mall patrons sued “smart parking” security companies and mall landlords in L.A. County for the unauthorized capturing of license plate images. License plate recognition technology is deployed at large malls for security purposes, but also parking payment.

Defendant Ski Data (whose subsidiary is parking security operator Sentry Control Systems) pushed the case to federal court, arguing the potential liability makes the case too big for a state court.

This is about the worst time for mall REITs to be hit with legal actions. Indoor malls aren’t open in L.A. County under a month-old executive order by Gov. Gavin Newsom. And the mall landlords themselves have filed lawsuits against non-paying tenants.

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Filed by Lindemann Law Firm in Beverly Hills, the complaint presents individual plaintiffs who drove to L.A.’s largest malls including Westfield Century City, the Rick Caruso-owned Grove, and the Simon Property Group-held Del Amo mall.

The plaintiffs entered mall parking garages at which point they are fed a ticket with their license number printed in bold. The license plate image, the lawsuit contends, is transferred into a database obtainable by third parties, who can then match license to person through a DMV registry.

“The unauthorized capturing of license plate images can ultimately be used to obtain one’s home address from driver registration records thereby violating the privacy rights and personal safety of consumers,” the lawsuit reads.

The complaint points to a February report by the California auditor that law enforcement agencies are using license plate readers without legally required oversight.

What, if any, consumer or other information the smart parking companies transfer over to mall landlords and retailers is not clear. Messages left Tuesday with plaintiffs’ lawyer Blake Lindemann were not returned.

Messages left with the REIT’s themselves including Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, owner of the Century City mall, were not immediately returned.