12/8/2014California: Bill Would Impose Modest Regulation On License Plate Spying
California state senator proposes to hold accountable the public and private agencies that use automated license plate readers.
Police departments around the country have deployed automatic license plate readers (ALPR or ANPR in Europe) with little or no public debate about their use. The devices store a wealth of information about the comings and goings of individual motorists by photographing a license plate, linking this to the driver's identity, and storing the identity along with the time, date and location in a database. California state Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) pre-filed legislation last week that would introduce some accountability to the use of such databases.
If a vehicle owner is, for example, tracked by a jealous ex-boyfriend using a public agency's camera, the aggrieved individual could sue in court for actual and punitive damages. She would have additional evidence for her lawsuit because Hill's proposal would also require the maintenance of a log recording each time the license plate database is accessed. Public agencies would have to keep the public informed about how they use license plate readers by requiring hearings before any cameras are installed.
Hill's bill was considered in the previous legislative session, but it proved too controversial to clear the state Senate, despite several attempts at compromise and amendment that watered down the bill. Opposition came from every police agency in the state, the California Bankers Association, the California Public Parking Association, Equal Access Lenders of California, the California Financial Services Association and TransUnion.
Repo men and private meter maids depend on license plate readers to write parking tickets and confiscate cars. The legislative summary of the bill warned of "Potentially significant reduction in fine revenues due to reduced collection of outstanding parking fines utilizing ALPR technology."
The only existing restriction on license plate reader use, a sixty-day data retention limitation that applies only to the California Highway Patrol, could only pass after being slipped into a transportation budget bill in 2011.
A copy of the bill is available in a 300k PDF file at the source link below.