State rules on license plate readers getting attention

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/25/2014

Work continues in statehouses across the country to impose rules on a growing trend to track drivers’ movements through automated license plate scanners.

Cameras to capture the date, time and location of scanned vehicles are used in some capacity in 40 states, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Retention periods of data for innocent truckers and motorists range from a couple of days to as long as decade.

A bill headed to the Utah governor’s desk would allow private companies, as well as law enforcement, to snap pictures of license plates along roadways or in parking lots.

Utah law now limits use of the technology that can read 1,800 plates per minute to police and parking enforcement. Data can be kept for up to nine months.

SB222 would allow private companies, such as repossession companies, to take photos and store them for as long as they like. However, state agencies couldn’t buy them from any businesses that keep them for longer than 30 days.

Rep. Dan McKay, R-Riverton, said the change is sought to resolve a lawsuit against the state that claims existing regulations violate the First Amendment rights of private companies to take pictures of passing vehicles in public places.

“This bill is attempting to find a balance between those who want nothing to do with the technology and where law enforcement can find and use the data for immediate purposes to deal with crimes,” McKay said during House floor discussion.

In Tennessee, a bill sent to the governor would limit how long data from license plate readers can be kept.

Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, said there are about 40 cameras throughout the state posted along highways and the data can be kept for however long law enforcement wishes.

SB1664 would permit local police departments and the Department of Public Safety to keep data for 90 days. The time limit wouldn’t apply to records related to crimes.

“We have these cameras that are taking pictures all throughout the highways,” Faison testified. “They have the potential to create permanent records of everywhere you’ve been. There ought to be some right to privacy.”

Rhode Island lawmakers are also discussing limits on the use of the technology.

S2614/H7461 would limit use of readers for collecting tolls, parking or traffic ticket violations, identifying vehicles registered to someone with a warrant, and locating vehicles linked to a missing person.

Sharing of data for any other reason would be prohibited. Data from plates that aren’t included on any of the approved lists would be required to be purged within 48 hours.

Images captured that identify a violation could be kept for up to one year after the matter is resolved.

Jeff Taylor, a lobbyist for companies that manufacture license plate readers, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that privacy concerns are an overreach.

“There is no expectation of privacy with a license plate,” Taylor testified. “It is public property.”

Bill supporters say restrictions are necessary. They plan to make changes to the bill that would make sure that state agencies can continue to use the scanners for truck enforcement.

Across the state line in Connecticut, the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Security advanced a bill to regulate the use of license plate scanners.

The scanners are used in about 60 percent of the state’s local police departments. The plate readers are also used for the collection of taxes.

HB5389 would limit use of scanners to law enforcement. In addition, data collected could be stored for up to five years.

Instead, the ACLU is calling for retention periods of 14 days. Exceptions could be made for active criminal investigations.

Down the coast in Florida, a Senate bill would also place guidelines on the use of scanners. SB1272 calls for a retention schedule to be set for records kept by law enforcement.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted unanimously to advance the bill for further consideration.

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