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Florida Bill a Step Toward Stopping Federal License Plate Tracking and Data Sharing

A wide-ranging privacy bill introduced in the Florida House would prohibit the use of automated license plate readers without a warrant in most cases, and ban retention of any legally-collected data, blocking a federal program tapping into ALPRs on a state-level.

H0571 would also prohibit collection of electronic data without a warrant and make any warrantless data obtained by a state agency inadmissible in court.  This would effectively block what NSA former Chief Technical Director William Binney called the country’s “greatest threat since the Civil War.”

Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-Ft. Myers) introduced H0571 on Feb. 3. The legislation addresses several privacy issues, including the use of automatic license plate readers.  These ALPR systems store photographs, the license plate numbers, and the date, time, and location of vehicles. A single scanner can capture hundreds of license plate numbers in a matter of hours.

H0571 prohibits any state, local or federal agency from using an automatic license plate reader within the state of Florida with only a few exceptions.  These include toll collection, to counter a high risk terrorist attack, or if there is a reasonable belief that immediate use of an ALPR is necessary to protect life or property.

The legislation also requires strict control over data legally collected by an ALPR, requiring its deletion within 30 days unless part of an ongoing criminal investigation. Additionally, “All existing government maintained license plate reader surveillance databases shall purge all records not obtained by warrant.”

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 H0571 would take a major step toward blocking that program from continuing in Florida. The feds can’t access data that doesn’t exist.

ADDITIONAL PROTECTION AGAINST NSA PROGRAMS

Along with banning the use of ALPRs without a warrant, H0571 also prohibits warrantless collection of electronic data from phones and other portable electronic devices. The bill bans searches of electronic devices even “incident to a lawful arrest.”

“Evidence obtained in violation of this section is not admissible in a criminal, civil, administrative, or other proceeding except as proof of a violation of this section.”

This includes evidence “obtained” through information sharing by federal agencies. This would effectively stop one practical effect of NSA spying in Florida.

Reuters revealed the extent of such NSA data sharing with state and local law enforcement in an August 2013 article. According to documents obtained by the news agency, the NSA passes information to police through a formerly secret DEA unit known Special Operations Divisions and the cases “rarely involve national security issues.” Almost all of the information involves regular criminal investigations, not terror-related investigations.

In other words, not only does the NSA collect and store this data, using it to build profiles, the agency encourages state and local law enforcement to violate the Fourth Amendment by making use of this information in their day-to-day investigations.

This is “the most threatening situation to our constitutional republic since the Civil War,” Binney said.

H0571 also prohibits the use of wall-penetrating radar without a warrant, sets up strict criteria to protect students’ personal data and establishes comprehensive reporting requirements for agencies dealing with electronic data, including law enforcement.

H0571 has yet to be referred to a committee.

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