State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo/Pacifica) has introduced legislation that would prohibit sale of data collected by automatic license plate readers (LPRs), used mainly by law enforcement agencies.
LPR technology uses a combination of high-speed cameras, software, and criminal databases to rapidly check and track the license plates of millions of Californians. The technology is also often used by private, non-law enforcement entities, such as parking and repossession companies. But as use of this technology has increased, so has the concern of civil libertarians. Under current law, LPR operators have no obligation to keep the data private.
“Automatic license plate reader technology is a useful tool for law enforcement,” Hill said. “But use of this technology must be balanced with personal privacy.” Under Hill’s Senate Bill 893, LPR operators would be prohibited from selling the information to any entity that is not a law enforcement agency or to any individual who is not a law enforcement officer.
Violations of the prohibition would be subject to civil action and anyone affected by a privacy breach would be entitled to recover damages, including costs and attorney’s fees. License plate readers can be placed anywhere, but are most commonly mounted on the roof of law enforcement vehicles. The LPRs automatically scan any license plate within range. Some LPR systems can scan as many as 2,000 license plates a minute.
On balance, LPR technology has become a critical component of modern policing. For example, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, in the first 30 days of using the technology, identified and located 495 stolen vehicles, five carjacked vehicles, and 19 other vehicles that were involved in felonies. These LPR identifications enabled the Sheriff’s Department to take 45 suspects into custody, including individuals involved with bank robbery and home invasion.
Under current law, there is no requirement to keep LPR data private or to restrict access to the information after a certain period of time. Hill’s legislation would restrict access to LPR data retained for more than five years. Under SB 893, only law enforcement agencies would be able to access the information after five years, and they would be required to obtain a court order to do so.
“Law enforcement will still be able to continue to use LPR technology to catch criminals,” Hill said. “But Californians will have peace of mind that their personal information is safeguarded.”
(Posted by John Maybury, Pacifica Riptide, Pacifica, California)