Lawmakers in 18 states pursue rules on use of license plate readers

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 4/18/2016

State lawmakers around the country continue to pursue action on the practice of tracking drivers’ movements through automatic 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 about 600 local and state police departments and other state and federal agencies, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Private business, such as repossession companies and vehicle insurance companies, also use the technology that can capture about 1,800 images per minute.

To date, a dozen states have enacted rules relating to the use of ALPRs.

New York is among the 18 states looking into setting rules on the use of the tracking technology. In the Empire State, one bill would limit the way police can use the license readers and limit the length of time law enforcement can keep any data collected.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, D-Bronx, A5233 would also prohibit private companies from using the tracking technology.

“This technology and data derived from it can essentially map out the entire life of a private citizen who has not committed or even been suspected of any crimes,” Dinowitz wrote.

Companies argue it is lawful to photograph in public. They point out the cameras that cost about $15,000 each only snap photos of license plates, not individual drivers.

Two bills in Massachusetts would also regulate use of the tracking technology. Specifically, H3009 and H32012 would prohibit commercial use of the tracking technology.

In addition, the first bill would restrict use of ALPRs to specific purposes, such as law enforcement or electronic tolling. Any data collected must be deleted within 14 days unless a court warrant is obtained to preserve an extension.

The second bill includes additional restrictions on where and how the scanners can be used. A 90-day retention period is included for the data.

Multiple efforts in Missouri also address use of plate readers. Effective Aug. 28, 2016, one House bill would prohibit use of the technology. HB1945 would also require any program in use to be terminated within one year.

The Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee approved another bill, SB1040, to require all irrelevant data to be deleted after 30 days. Data could be kept for up to one year for ongoing criminal investigations. Also, routine sharing of the data with the federal government would be prohibited.

“Law enforcement should not have the ability to use the data collected from law-abiding citizens in any way they choose,” Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, said in prepared remarks.

Meanwhile, a New Hampshire bill would authorize the use of plate scanners.

The state now prohibits their use.

House lawmakers voted to advance a bill 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 the technology would include commercial trucking violations, tracking stolen vehicles and tracking people suspected of criminal or terrorist acts.

Rep. Ken Peterson, R-Bedford, told members of the Joint Committee on Transportation that the technology would be limited for purposes related to serious crimes.

“This is not a device to try to infringe on peoples’ privacy. (This bill) allows law enforcement to do what they are mandated to do: read license plates,” Peterson testified.

HB1154 would require data from plates that are not included on any lists to be purged within three minutes.

An effort in New Jersey focuses on the amount of time that license reader data can be kept. A3362 would limit data retention to 48 hours.

Similarly, a Vermont Senate-approved bill would limit retention for up to 18 months. S155 is scheduled to receive additional consideration this week in the House Judiciary Committee.

Permitting use of ALPRs for insurance purposes is under review in multiple statehouses.

One Oklahoma bill nearing passage would authorize the use of plate readers to flag uninsured drivers. The effort is intended to address the state’s one-in-four people driving without insurance.

SB359 would enable police to compare license plate numbers with an Oklahoma Insurance Department list to see whether the vehicle owner has coverage.

A related bill, SB1144, would make misuse of license data subject to legal action. The bill would clarify that captured data is not public record.

“These two bills together ensure that we can help law enforcement spot uninsured motorists, but we don’t have to give away our privacy,” stated Rep. Ken Walker, R-Tulsa.

In nearby Louisiana a Senate-approved bill would permit law enforcement in certain areas to use the technology to catch stolen vehicles, and uninsured drivers.

Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, said the bill is necessary to help the state address the 25 percent of Louisiana drivers who are uninsured.

One year ago, then-Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed the same effort citing concerns about the public’s privacy.

The 2016 version, SB54, would require law enforcement to delete data after 60 days.

The license plate scanners are already used in the state by law enforcement for a variety of purposes.

Johns added that the bill excludes the program from being used with ticket cameras.

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