ALBANY, NY (Jan. 18, 2021) – Bills introduced in the New York House and Senate would place stringent restrictions on the use of automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) by state law enforcement agencies. 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.
Asm. Amy Paulin (D-White Plains) introduced Assembly Bill 940 (A940) on Jan. 6. Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-NYC) introduced the companion in the Senate (S685) on the same day. The legislation would strictly limit ALPR use to specific law enforcement applications. The bills would also place stringent restraints on how gathered data is retained and shared.
“Captured plate data obtained for the purposes described under this section shall not be used or shared for any other purpose and shall not be preserved for more than one hundred eighty days except pursuant to a preservation or disclosure request under this subdivision, or a warrant.”
Captured plate data would have to be destroyed by the operator of the ALPR system when an application for a disclosure order is denied or at the end of 14 days, whichever is later.
A940/S685 would prohibit the sale, trading, or exchanging captured license plate data for any purpose. Under the proposed law, any data captured or improperly maintained could not be introduced by the state in any grand jury or a criminal court proceeding or in any civil or administrative proceeding brought by the state or any government office or official.
The legislation would also ban the use of ALPRs by non-law enforcement agencies in most cases-effectively prohibiting potential, non-state bad actors from utilizing this dangerous and invasive technology against private citizens for nefarious purposes.
IMPACT ON FEDERAL PROGRAMS
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the federal government, via the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), tracks the location of millions of vehicles through data provided by ALPRs operated on a state and local level. 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, paid for by federal grant money. The DEA then taps into the local database to track the whereabouts of millions of people – for the “crime” of driving – without having to operate a huge network itself.
ALPRs can scan, capture and record thousands of license plates every minute and store them in massive databases, along with date, time and location information.
Records obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) through open records requests encompassed information compiled by 200 law enforcement agencies that utilize ALPRs. The data revealed more than 2.5 billion license plate scans in just two years (2016 and 2017).
Perhaps more concerning, this gigantic sample of license plate scans reveals that 99.5 percent of this data was collected regardless of whether the vehicle or its owner were suspected of being involved in criminal activity. On average, agencies share this data with a minimum of 160 other agencies. In some cases, agencies share this data with as many as 800 other agencies.
Private companies contribute to the proliferation of ALPR databases. In late 2019, Rekor Systems announced that they had launched the Rekor Public Safety Network (RPSN) which gives law enforcement real-time access to license plates.
“Any state or local law enforcement agency participating in the RPSN will be able to access real-time data from any part of the network at no cost. The Company is initially launching the network by aggregating vehicle data from customers in over 30 states. With thousands of automatic license plate reading cameras currently in service that capture approximately 150 million plate reads per month, the network is expected to be live by the first quarter of 2020.”
Police generally configure ALPRs to store the photograph, the license plate number, and the date, time, and location of a vehicle’s license plate, which is bad enough. But according to records obtained by the ACLU via a Freedom of Information Act request, these systems also capture photographs of drivers and their passengers.
With the FBI rolling out a nationwide facial-recognition program in the fall of 2014, and the federal government building a giant biometric database with pictures provided by the states and corporate friends, the feds can potentially access stored photographs of drivers and passengers, along with detailed data revealing their location and activities. With this kind of information, government agents can easily find individuals without warrants or oversight, for any reason whatsoever.
Since a majority of federal license plate tracking data comes from state and local law enforcement, laws banning or even restricting ALPR use are essential. As more states pass such laws, the end result becomes more clear. No data equals no federal license plate tracking program.
Passage of A940/S685 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 that states make available to the federal government, the less ability it has to track people in Massachusetts and elsewhere.
A940 was referred to the House Government Operations Committee. S685 was referred to the Senate Consumer protection committee. The bills must pass their respective committees by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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