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Alabama Bill Would Restrict ALPR’s, Help Block National License Plate Tracking Program

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Feb. 24, 2016) – A bill introduced in the Alabama House would ban the use of automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) on public highways with only a few exceptions and place limits on the storage of data legally collected. Passage of the legislation would not only protect privacy in the state, it would also place significant 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. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville) introduced House Bill 210 (HB210) on Feb. 11. The legislation would generally ban the use of ALPRs on public highways. The proposed law would allow the use of ALPRs to collect data for planning purposes as long as the agency using the technology maintains the anonymity of the driver, the vehicle itself and any passengers inside. It would also allow the use of an ALPR to regulate parking and for the enforcement of laws relating to commercial vehicles.

Any information collected by an ALPR system for legitimate purposes under the law could only be maintained for the time “minimally necessary” for its purpose, and not longer than one year. The legislation specifies that data collected can not be submitted as evidence in court, nor used to investigate or prosecute an individual without a warrant.

Passage of HB210 would prevent the state from creating permanent databases using information collected by ALPRs, and would make it highly unlikely that such data would end up in federal databases.

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 vehicle. They’ve engaged in this for nearly eight years, 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 simple act of driving – without having to operate a huge network itself.

Since a majority of federal license plate tracking data comes from state and local law enforcement, passage of HB210 would take a major step toward blocking that program from continuing in Alabama. The feds can’t access data that doesn’t exist.

“No data means no federal license plate tracking program,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.

Law enforcement generally configures ALPRs to store the photograph, the license plate number, and the date, time, and location of vehicles. But according to newly disclosed records obtained by the ACLU via a Freedom of Information Act request, the DEA is also captures photographs of drivers and their passengers.

According to the ACLU:

“One internal 2009 DEA communication stated clearly that the license plate program can provide “the requester” with images that “may include vehicle license plate numbers (front and/or rear), photos of visible vehicle occupants [redacted] and a front and rear overall view of the vehicle.” Clearly showing that occupant photos are not an occasional, accidental byproduct of the technology, but one that is intentionally being cultivated, a 2011 email states that the DEA’s system has the ability to store “up to 10 photos per vehicle transaction including 4 occupant photos.”

With the FBI rolling out facial a nationwide recognition program last fall, and the federal government building biometric databases, the fact that the feds can potentially access stored photographs of drivers and passengers, along with detailed location data, magnifies the privacy concerns surrounding ALPRs.

Passage of HB210 would represent a good first step toward putting a big dent in federal plans to continue location tracking, and expanding its facial recognition program. The less data the state makes available to the federal government, the less ability they have to track people in Alabama.

NEXT STEPS

HB210 was referred to the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security where it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving on to the full House.

In Alabama, take all the steps to support this bill at THIS LINK.

All other states, start at THIS LINK.