Will Michigan's license plate readers be regulated?

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 10/29/2013

A Michigan House bill would regulate the use of license plate readers by law enforcement in the state.

License plate readers can be mounted on patrol cars or alongside roadsides and bridges. High-speed cameras and software are used to capture images of license plates. Plate numbers are scanned and cross-checked with numbers included on a “hotlist.” If a plate hits, officers are alerted and can pursue or pullover the vehicle.

Cameras to capture the date, time and location that scanned vehicles passed are used in some capacity in 40 states, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Concerns over personal privacy and domestic spying programs spurred Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, to introduce a bill to limit the use of the technology.

Singh said the U.S. Constitution demands a certain level of privacy for all people, but he said people must remain diligent in enforcing the right.

“Broad-stroke electronic monitoring methods such as license plate readers raise concerns, and we need to act proactively to ensure the right balance between effective law enforcement and a person’s privacy is maintained,” Singh said in a recent news release.

His bill would prohibit license plate readers from recording pictures of drivers, require that local department level policies govern their use, and allow the attorney general’s office to ban use of the technology at agencies found in violation.

The bill would also mandate that license plate records collected by the readers must be deleted from data systems within 48 hours after they were collected. An exception would be made when the record is linked to criminal activity.

“My legislation lays out in clear terms what is acceptable and what is not in monitoring and storing data collected on innocent citizens,” Singh stated.

Acceptable uses of license plate readers would include commercial trucking enforcement, tracking stolen vehicles and tracking people suspected of criminal or terrorist acts.

HB4981 is in the House Criminal Justice Committee.

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