California approves rules on use of license plate readers

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The California Legislature has approved a bill to put in place rules on the use of technology used to track drivers’ movements through automated license plate readers, or ALPRs.

High-tech cameras to capture the date, time and location by scanning vehicles as they pass are used in some capacity by 75 percent of law enforcement throughout the country, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Private companies, such as repossession companies, also use the technology that can scan up to 2,000 plates per minute.

The surveillance technology at times is credited with alerting law enforcement to the whereabouts of suspects wanted in connection with dangerous crimes. The technology is credited with alerting authorities in Mississippi this week to the location of a university professor wanted in connection with the fatal shooting of his girlfriend and a fellow Delta State University professor.

A license plate reader was also used to notify a Virginia state trooper to the rental vehicle of the man who shot and killed a television reporter and a cameraman last month while doing a live report.

The California Senate voted 25-11 to sign off on changes made to the bill to regulate use of the technology by the public and private sector. The vote cleared the way for SB34 to head to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. Assembly lawmakers approved the bill one day earlier on a 71-5 vote.

Sen. Jerry Hill, D-Mateo, said the new rules establish sensible standards for ALPRs to protect civil liberties and privacy while balancing law enforcements ability to use the technology to catch criminals.

Entities in California using ALPRs would be required to adopt privacy policies and post the information online. A requirement would also be put in place to set policies on use and for how long data can be kept.

In addition, logs must be kept of each instance the license data is accessed, and the purpose.

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

“Aggregated license plate data is powerful information. License plate readers make it easy for anyone, whether it’s the police, a private company or individual, to track and monitor the whereabouts of any person,” Hill recently testified.

To view other legislative activities of interest for California, click here.

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