New Hampshire lawmakers say 'no' to license plate readers

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Tuesday, January 21, 2014

An effort in New Hampshire to authorize the use of automated license plate scanners has been shot down by state lawmakers.

License plate readers, or LPRs, 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 pull over the vehicle.

New Hampshire, whose motto is “Live Free or Die,” is the only state to prohibit the use of LPRs.

The House voted 250-97 to make sure that doesn’t change. HB675 sought to allow law enforcement agencies to use the scanners to collect plate numbers and run them through a database of crimes and individuals. Acceptable uses of LPRs would have included commercial trucking violations, as well as the tracking of stolen vehicles and people suspected of criminal or terrorist acts.

Data from plates that aren’t included on any lists would have been required to be purged after three minutes.

Supporters said LPRs would improve public safety and would make police departments more efficient.

In light of the National Security Administration’s data collection leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden, opponents said they are concerned about the rights of innocent people.

“We have to ask ourselves whether we in New Hampshire want to go down that road of allowing government to collect metadata on innocent individuals,” Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, told lawmakers during floor discussion. He said a “yes” vote to the bill “would not be consistent with New Hampshire values.”

Kurk predicted if the bill became law that law enforcement would come back to ask to keep information for a longer period of time.

“This bill is the camel’s nose under the tent.”

Advocates said that driving is a privilege. They point out that people register their vehicles, pay fees, obtain license plates and affix them to the front and rear of vehicles.

“Implicit in that registration is an acknowledgement the plates are there for public scrutiny, identification and recognition,” said Rep. Geoffrey Hirsh, D-Bradford. “How can there be an expectation of privacy about our license plates?"

Opponents said authorizing use of the technology would put New Hampshire closer to a George Orwellian state for government tracking of citizens’ every move.

“This bill moves us back into the era of Big Brother,” said Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester.

After killing the bill, representatives took the extra step of voting 214-135 to forbid additional discussion about the issue during the rest of the regular session.

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