States from coast to coast near new rules on license plate readers

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 5/29/2014

State lawmakers from California to Rhode Island continue the push to impose rules on a growing trend to track drivers’ movements through automated license plate readers.

High-tech cameras, which capture the date, time and location as passing vehicles are scanned, 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. Private companies, such as repossession companies, also use the technology that can capture about 1,800 images per minute.

The California Senate could soon take up for consideration a bill that would regulate use of the technology by the public and private sector.

Sen. Jerry Hill, D-Mateo, is behind a bill that would keep automated license plate readers, or ALPRs, off private property. Public agencies would also be forbidden to share their camera data.

The California Highway Patrol is already prohibited from selling information collected for private use.

“ALPR technology has become a critical component of modern policing, but as use of the technology has increased, so has the concern over civil liberties and Californians’ fundamental right to privacy,” Hill said in a news release.

If approved by the Senate, SB893 would advance to the Assembly for further consideration.

In Florida, a bill on the governor’s desk would also place guidelines on the use of the 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.

Rhode Island lawmakers are continuing discussion to limit 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 recently 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.

A failed effort in Minnesota sought to regulate the use of data collected by readers.

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.

House and Senate lawmakers approved a bill to impose regulations but they weren’t able to reach agreement on their differences.

The House version of HF474 prohibited saving any data not related to a stolen vehicle, arrest warrant, or suspended or revoked driver’s license. The Senate-approved version allowed law enforcement to keep data records for 90 days and permitted use for broader purposes.

States with new laws that address concerns about automated license plate readers:

  • Utah – 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. In addition, data kept by law enforcement must be purged after nine months.
  • Tennessee – permits local 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.
  • Colorado – requires camera data to be destroyed after three years.
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