States near new rules on license plate readers

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 4/23/2014

State lawmakers around the country continue to take strides 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 vehicles are used in some capacity by about 600 local and state police departments and other state and federal agencies, 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 new law in Utah allows private companies, as well as law enforcement, to snap pictures of license plates along roadways or in parking lots.

Utah law has limited 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.

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

Rep. Dan McKay, R-Riverton, said the change resolves 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 addition, data kept by law enforcement must be purged after nine months.

The new rules take effect May 13.

In Tennessee, a new law limits 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.

Effective July 1, SB1664permitslocal police departments and the Department of Public Safety to keep data for 90 days. The time limit will not apply to records related to crimes.

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

A new Colorado law also requires camera data to be destroyed after three years. Previously, state law permitted surveillance data to be kept indefinitely.

A bill halfway through the Missouri statehouse would restrict how long law enforcement can store data collected through license plate readers.

Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, said in written remarks the data collection is “an ongoing issue we need to keep watching.”

The Senate voted to send a bill to the House that would require all irrelevant data to be deleted after 30 days. SB599 would also restrict what law enforcement could share with the federal government.

Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said during Senate floor discussion that the bill strikes a good balance “that doesn’t inhibit law enforcements’ ability to catch the bad guy, and at the same time restores balance to privacy rights for the average citizen.”

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

H7867 would prohibit collection of personal data through surveillance on any public highways in the state, unless specifically authorized by statute or court order.

Rep. John Edwards, D-Portsmouth/Tiverton, said that people are entitled to their privacy.

“In a world where we have to worry about things like identity theft and hackers, it’s necessary to have these safeguards,” Edwards stated.

License plate readers could still be used for collecting tolls and bridge security. In addition, information data could be stored for up to five years unless a court orders otherwise.

The Florida Senate voted 38-1 to approve a bill that would also place guidelines on the use of license plate scanners. Specifically, SB226 would implement a statewide policy to prohibit making information available to open records.

A vehicle owner could also gain access to his or her own information.

Another bill awaiting consideration on the Senate floor would also place guidelines on the use of scanners. SB1272 calls for a retention schedule to be set for records kept by law enforcement.

In Minnesota, House and Senate lawmakers are working out their differences on a bill that would regulate the use of data collected by scanners.

Currently, state law doesn’t limit the length of time that law enforcement can keep data collected on truckers and motorists. Policy implemented by the State Patrol calls for location data to be purged after 48 hours. Police in St. Paul keep it for 14 days and Minneapolis officers retain it for one year.

The Senate version of HF474 would allow law enforcement to keep data records for 90 days. House lawmakers previously approved a version that would forbid saving any data not related to a stolen vehicle, arrest warrant or suspended or revoked driver’s license.

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