2/22/2010Maine: Legislative Committee Considers ANPR Ban
Maine Senate committee considers legislation to ban automated license plate recognition cameras.
Police agencies around the country have increased the deployment of automated license plate recognition cameras (ALPR, also known as ANPR in Europe) to track motorists. In every state, this surveillance technology has been implemented without public debate or legislative approval. One Maine lawmaker is looking to change that. State Senator Dennis S. Damon (D-Hancock) introduced legislation to add ANPR to an existing state law that bans red light cameras. The senate Transportation Committee will discuss the bill at a work session tomorrow.
"The state or a municipality may not use a traffic surveillance camera to prove or enforce a violation of this title or to collect data that could be used to uniquely identify a vehicle or individual," LD1561 states. "For purposes of this section, 'traffic surveillance camera' means either an automated license plate recognition system or a device that, in conjunction with a lighted traffic-control device... or a speed measurement device... automatically produces one or more photographs... a videotape or any other recorded image of a vehicle...."
South Portland began using ALPR in January, paying for the cameras by applying for grants underwritten by taxpayers living beyond the city's borders. ALPR systems use infrared and color video cameras capable of recording passing motorists by day or night and in all weather conditions. Police intend to use the systems to identify license plates and match them against a "hot list" of stolen vehicles or other cars of interest to police. The system's inherent flexibility is what troubles some opponents.
"This technology allows law enforcement to use any hot list that they like or even to construct a hot list themselves," Maine Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Shenna Bellows testified earlier this month. "Imagine the potential abuse of such hot lists "Law enforcement could sweep the parking lot of a No on 1 or Yes on 1 rally, or a synagogue, or a mosque, or a church to record the license plate numbers, which would then enable law enforcement to use that list of license plate numbers to monitor the actions of those participants... Hot list technology that creates an automated match makes this surveillance camera system even more powerful and potentially threatening to civil liberties than an ordinary camera."
According to city bidding documents, the camera system was only required to meet a 90 percent "read accuracy rate" standard. This means a false reading could lead innocent motorists to be pulled over at gunpoint as if they had been behind the wheel of a stolen vehicle. Despite the potential for problems, South Portland Police insist that the technology is worthwhile.
"Given the times we live in and the amount of personal information already available to an officer on the street (and even on the Internet), we believe the safety benefits of the ALPR far outweigh the expressed privacy concerns related to a photo of a license plate when on a public way or within public view," a department press release explained. "ALPR technology is costly, but the department believes this technology can and will save lives."
View the ALPR ban legislation in a 10k PDF file at the source link below.