FRANKFORT, Ky. (Jan. 5, 2024) – A bill introduced in the Kentucky House would place some restrictions on the retention and sharing of automatic license plate reader (ALPR) data in the state. The proposed law would also place 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.
Rep John Hodgson, Rep. Adam Bowling, and Rep. Daniel Grossberg introduced House Bill 45 (HB45) on Jan. 2. Under the proposed law, “entities” using ALPRs, including Kentucky law enforcement agencies, local government agencies, and HOAs could only retain collected data for 30 days unless the data is being used in a felony prosecution, become subject to a subpoena, or is being used for toll collection activities.
HB45 would also prohibit sharing or selling ALPR data to any entity except a law enforcement agency or in response to a subpoena.
Other provisions in HB45 would clarify limits on drone surveillance in the state. In 2018, a law went into effect requiring police to get a warrant before engaging in drone surveillance in most situations. HB45 would clarify that “a person, agency, or political subdivision shall not use an unmanned aircraft system equipped with an imaging device to record an image of privately owned real property or of the owner, tenant, occupant, invitee, or licensee of such property with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image in violation of the person’s reasonable expectation of privacy without his or her written consent,” with certain exceptions.
HB45 would also prohibit the production of “deep fake” images of an individual without their consent and would prohibit any government entity from requiring an ID chip embedded under the skin.
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). In 2019 alone, 82 agencies in California collected more than 1 billion license plate scans using ALPRs. Yet according to EFF, 99.9 percent of this surveillance data was not actively related to an investigation when it was collected.
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 was 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.”
ALPR systems run by Flock Saftey have also proliferated across the U.S. If there are Flock cameras in your town, every law enforcement agency in the country that subscribes to the Flock system can tap into your local data.
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 HB45 would take a step toward putting a 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 Kentucky and elsewhere.
HB45 will be referred to a House committee where it must get a hearing and pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.