Rules on license plate readers sought in more than a dozen states

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 1/30/2014

Officials in statehouses around the country are taking a long look at a growing trend to track drivers’ movements through automated license plate scanners. Efforts drawing attention in more than one dozen states would place guidelines on the technology’s use by law enforcement.

Cameras that capture the date, time and location as scanned vehicles pass 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 a decade.

New Hampshire, with the motto of “Live Free or Die,” is the only state to forbid the use of license plate readers, or LPRs.

House lawmakers there voted to make sure that doesn’t change. They killed a bill that sought to allow law enforcement agencies to use the scanners to collect plate numbers and run them through databases of crimes and individuals. Acceptable uses of LPRs would have included commercial trucking violations.

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

Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, said the bill was killed because of privacy concerns. He said lawmakers were concerned that police chiefs would soon return asking for an extension in the amount of time data could be kept.

“Everyone saw this bill as the camel’s nose under the tent,” Kurk told “Land Line Now.”

Critics across the country are calling for more regulation of the technology. They want lawmakers to approve requirements to delete data collected from LPRs of innocent drivers after a reasonable period of time.

Such limits could affect an Oregon truck enforcement program. The state Department of Transportation is getting ready to launch a program on Highway 99 West’s traffic lanes near Junction City.

A so-called “virtual weigh station” will soon rely on LPRs to snap photos of trucks passing through the area in Lane County.

An effort underway at the Oregon statehouse would set guidelines on law enforcement’s use of the technology.

ACLU Oregon cites retention periods like Clackamas County where images of innocent drivers can be kept for 10 years.

In addition to enforcing parking and traffic violations and investigating crime, the group is advocating a rule that would permit law enforcement to use the technology to regulate motor carriers and collect tolls.

Officials could keep the data of innocent people for up to 14 days.

Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, told a Senate interim panel that although the technology is used to keep people safe it’s time to take action on the issue.

“We’re at a pivotal time in our nation’s history with the challenges that technology presents to some of our core constitutional principles,” Williamson testified. “The question is what kind of threat to our individual liberty does mass data collection bring? Is it worth it?”

Other states addressing the use of LPRs include:

California – a bill would require agencies to get a court order to gain access to license plate data of targeted drivers more than five years old. Sharing or selling information of innocent drivers would also be prohibited.

Florida – a bill would put in place a statewide policy on the use of LPRs. Information couldn’t be made available to open records.

Indiana – a bill would require data of innocent drivers to be deleted within 24 hours.

Maryland – a bill would require data of innocent drivers to be deleted after 30 days.

Massachusetts – a bill would require records of innocent drivers to be deleted after 48 hours.

Michigan – a bill would mandate that license plate records of innocent drivers must be deleted from data systems within 48 hours after they were collected. The technology would be authorized to aid with enforcing commercial trucking rules.

Missouri – a bill would require all irrelevant data to be purged after 30 days.

Tennessee – a bill would limit data storage of innocent drivers to two years.

Virginia – a bill would require law enforcement to immediately delete license plate information if it’s not linked to a criminal or terrorism investigation.

Washington – a bill would authorize data of innocent drivers to be kept for 21 days. Permitted reasons to collect data would include truck enforcement.

Wisconsin – an effort underway would allow police to use cameras only during a crime investigation. All data would be required to be destroyed within 48 hours unless the information is needed for criminal investigations. In addition, stored information couldn’t be shared with non-governmental entities.

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