3/3/2014Tennessee Lawmakers Take On Roadblocks, License Scanners
Tennessee General Assembly on considers legislation limiting DNA roadblocks and retention of license plate scans.
The Tennessee General Assembly is taking steps to rein in roadblocks and the use of license plate scanners by police. On Wednesday, the state House Criminal Justice Committee will consider a Senate-passed legislation prohibiting police from participating in roadblocks designed to collect DNA from motorists. On the same day, the House Transportation Subcommittee will take up another Senate-passed bill to limit the use of automated license plate readers (ALPR, also known as ANPR in Europe).
"No state, county, municipal or metropolitan form of government law enforcement officer shall participate in, lend assistance to, or be present in any official capacity at any voluntary motor vehicle checkpoint or stop conducted by a private company or research group to collect a human sample from consenting motorists stopped at the checkpoint for research or statistical purposes," Senate Bill 1485 states.
The state Senate unanimously approved the idea on January 27. State Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville) introduced the measure after learning that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been handing out grant money in sixty cities around the country so that researchers from a private company, the Pacific Institute for Research and Education can stop motorists and ask them questions about driving under the influence of alcohol and prescription drugs. They will also pay to collect DNA samples from drivers. Bell is concerned about the program.
"It's the way the surveys are being conducted," Bell explained. "They've hired some off-duty police officers who then come to the checkpoint location in their police cars, in uniform, and they turn their flashing lights.... It has the appearance of a law enforcement stop. It is not a law enforcement stop. I believe these stops are unconstitutional. It's being done in the guise of being 'voluntary,' but when you have a law enforcement presence there, it doesn't have the appearance of being [truly] voluntary."
Lawmakers are not aware of the program taking place in Tennessee, and the state Department of Public Safety assured Bell that they had no intention of ever participating. Bell explained that the measure is meant to stop individual police officers from taking part, with or without a municipality's authorization.
Another privacy-focused measure, Senate Bill 1664 ( view bill, 40k PDF), would impose limits on police use of license plate readers. State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) introduced legislation to limit the amount of time that police could retain the GPS coordinates and photographs of motorists with in their license plate reader database for 90 days. The original version of the bill would have allowed plate data to be collected for two full years.
The bill passed the state Senate 29-1 last Thursday. Both this bill and the roadblock measure must clear the state House and be signed by the governor to become law. A copy of the roadblock bill is available in a 40k PDF file at the source link below.