JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (March 5, 2018) – A bill introduced in the Missouri Senate would limit the storage and sharing of information collected using Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) in the state. Passage into law would also place significant roadblocks in the way of a federal program using states to help track the location of millions of everyday people through pictures of their license plates.
Sen. Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) introduced Senate Bill 1087 (SB1087) on March 1. The legislation would restrict the storage and sharing of data collected by ALPRs. Under the proposed law, any information collected by an ALPR system would have to be destroyed after 1 year unless there was a judicially issued preservation order. SB1087 would also put tight restrictions on who could access ALPR data.
“In the case of a law enforcement entity’s system, criminal investigators and analysts and automated license plate reader system auditors; or
“In the case of the state highways and transportation commission’s system, state department of transportation personnel as expressly delegated by the state highways and transportation commission.”
All other law enforcement officers would be barred from accessing ALPR data after 30 days.
SB1087 includes a blanket ban on sharing data with federal agencies.
“No government entity shall allow a transfer of such agency’s captured plate data to a branch, department, or agency of the federal government, except as expressly provided by law.”
Any evidence handled in violation of the law would not be admissible in court.
“Captured plate data and evidence derived from it shall not be received in evidence in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding before any court, grand jury, department, officer, agency, regulatory body, legislative committee, or other authority of the state or a political subdivision of the state if the disclosure of that information would violate this section.”
Passage of SB1087 would prevent the state from creating permanent databases using information collected by ALPRs and would make it less likely that such data would end up in federal databases.
IMPACT ON FEDERAL PROGRAMS
The ACLU estimates that less than 0.2 percent of plate scans are linked to criminal activity or vehicle registration issues.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the federal government, via the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) tracks the location of millions of vehicles. They’ve engaged in this for nearly a decade, all without a warrant, or even public notice of the policy.
State and local law enforcement agencies operate most of these tracking systems, often paid for by federal grant money. The DEA then taps into the local database to track the whereabouts of millions of people – for the simple act of driving – without having to operate a huge network itself.
Since a majority of federal license plate tracking data comes from state and local law enforcement, passage of this legislation would take a major step toward blocking that program from continuing in Missouri. The feds can’t access data that doesn’t exist or that they are specifically barred from having.
“No data means no federal license plate tracking program,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
Law enforcement generally configures ALPRs to store the photograph, the license plate number, and the date, time, and location of vehicles. But according to newly disclosed records obtained by the ACLU via a Freedom of Information Act request, the DEA also captures photographs of drivers and their passengers.
According to the ACLU:
“One internal 2009 DEA communication stated clearly that the license plate program can provide “the requester” with images that “may include vehicle license plate numbers (front and/or rear), photos of visible vehicle occupants [redacted] and a front and rear overall view of the vehicle.” Clearly showing that occupant photos are not an occasional, accidental byproduct of the technology, but one that is intentionally being cultivated, a 2011 email states that the DEA’s system has the ability to store “up to 10 photos per vehicle transaction including 4 occupant photos.”
With the FBI rolling out facial a nationwide recognition program, and the federal government building biometric databases, the fact that the feds can potentially access stored photographs of drivers and passengers, along with detailed location data, magnifies the privacy concerns surrounding ALPRs.
Passage of SB1087 would represent a good first step toward putting a big dent in federal plans to continue location tracking and expanding its facial recognition program. The less data the state makes available to the federal government, the less ability they have to track people in Missouri, and elsewhere.
SB1087 will need to be referred to a committee and then pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.