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Louisiana Bill Would Restrict ALPRs, Help Block National License Plate Tracking Program

BATON ROUGE, La. (June 9, 2015) –  A bill moving through the Louisiana legislature would put strict limitations on the use of Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) by law enforcement in the state, and 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.

Sen. Ronnie Johns introduced Senate Bill 250 (SB250) in April. The legislation creates a pilot program for the use of ALPRs that places strict limits on law enforcement, restricts sharing of data and prohibits long-term storage of most information legally collected.

SB250 passed the Louisiana Senate 33-3 on May 18, and cleared the House yesterday by an 83-13 vote. The bill now returns to the Senate where it will consider the House amendments.

Under the proposed law, law enforcement agencies would only be allowed to access a database of collected ALPR information for “the investigation, detection, analysis or enforcement of the law regarding a criminal offense.” The primary purpose of the pilot program is locating stolen and uninsured vehicle. Any data not related to that purpose, or felonies, including vehicle theft, homicide, kidnapping and burglary, or for AMBER and Blue Alerts, must be destroyed within 30 days.

SB250 prohibits sharing of data with any agencies not included in the pilot program. This would exclude federal agencies from accessing the Louisiana database.

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 SB250 would take a major step toward blocking that program from continuing in Louisiana. The feds can’t access data that doesn’t exist.

“No data means no federal license plate tracking program,” said OffNow founder and deputy director Michael Boldin.

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 SB250 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 Louisiana.

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