Add Privacy and Technology to the Legislative Agenda

A point of contention for the law enforcement community for some time has been public dissent over the use of police license plate scanners. While the scanners are costly to departments, the real point of contention has surrounded when the data is collected, where it is stored, and for how long. This is a growing issue considering 71% of police agencies now use the scanners (increasing to 85% over the next 5 years) with success rates of ‘identifying’ crime as low as 0.005%- 0.0017%.

These cameras take upwards of 100 photos per minute without the use of human oversight. Local and county police departments as well as sheriff’s departments collect and store driver information anywhere from 30 days to a year, while some departments never purge the data. Essentially, individual police forces are establishing a database for millions of drivers, the majority of whom have never even committed a crime.

With the constant headlines around the issue, statistics have consistently shown that many law enforcement agencies have no policy for erasing the data and even overlapping departments have conflicting protocols. In Minnesota, the information collected is erased within 48 hours whereas California has no policy is in place to outline guidelines for purging information collected via license plate scanners.

Organizations such as the ACLU and national leaders like Rand Paul have long opposed the collection, and now storage, of this information without cause which helped halt a national database that was proposed by the Department of Homeland Security earlier this year and led the push for New Hampshire to ban the cameras all together.

Now, it looks like the initiative is coming to Georgia. Enter Representative John Pezold (R-Columbus). Representative Pezold is drafting legislation which will require that all departments -local, county and Sheriff – delete stored license plate numbers and information within 30 days of collection. The legislation would also prohibit any Georgia agency, other law enforcement agency, or federal agency from obtaining, viewing, or transferring the information without a warrant or cause, barring interstate or multi-agency issues.

Opponents of the legislation will likely offer a two-pronged argument:

  1. Setting a state standard circumvents local control. Perhaps, in a sense, but we are talking about privacy concerns of civilians that are currently protected at the varying discretion of elected and appointed officials.
  2. 30 days is too long.

If you support the use of license plate scanners, this will likely mean nothing to you. If you would like all license plate scanners in the state of Georgia banned, this legislation will not satiate your concerns, but it will impose restraints on the system under which we are currently operating.

One comment

  1. George Chidi says:

    I might hear a technical argument about why 30 days might be too long, but I strongly support this legislation.

    My city is drafting a policy with regard to body camera use, and I’m finding that there’s no legal standard for storage of video. Right now, I’m leaning toward a 90 day window, to allow complainants adequate time to discover evidence without creating a permanent video record of every interaction with police. (Video of arrests or accidents would of course be kept much longer.)

    One broad concern I have, though, is data security. The longer a file of any kind is held, the more data overall that can be stolen in a hack. A parsimonious storage protocol limits the risk.

    Another concern, broadly, is the intrusion of outside agencies trawling databases. While this might seem like anti-government paranoia … consider the times. A shorter storage window limits the power of the NSA to scrape local police agency databases for driver data. That potential, by the way, is a strike against TASER’s cloud storage bodycam video offering.

    As long as we’re talking about a state standard for plate reader storage, I might wonder if legislators have asked if outside agencies have routine access to plate reader databases. If, say, the FBI’s techs have unrestricted access to mirror plate readers run by state and local law enforcement, then a 30 day storage protocol might not matter much — the feds will keep the data for as long as they like.

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