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Michigan Bill Would Restrict ALPRs; Help Block National License Plate Tracking Program

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LANSING, Mich. (Jan. 29, 2016) – A bill filed in the Michigan legislature would put limitations on the storage and sharing of information collected by 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.

Rep. Samir Singh (D-East Lansing) and a bipartisan coalition of four other representatives, introduced House Bill 5248 (HB5248) on Jan. 26. The legislation would restrict the use of ALPRs to specific law enforcement functions, and plac limits on the storage and sharing of any data collected by such systems.

HB5248 would allow police to use an ALPR for a wide range of specific law enforcement activities, including locating stolen vehicles, locating persons subject to arrest warrants, locating missing persons and for investigation of specific cases.

The bill’s strength lies in its limits on data retention and sharing. Law enforcement would be generally required to purge all scanned plate information from the system within 48 hours after the end of their shift. They would only be allowed to retain data if the system alarms, and then only until until the resolution of the case. The legislation would prohibit the creation of permanent databases.

Under the proposed law, law enforcement agencies would only be able to share data with other state and local law enforcement agencies for official law enforcement purposes.

Passage of HB5248 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 HB5248 would take a major step toward blocking that program from continuing in Michigan. 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 HB5248 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 Michigan.

NEXT STEPS

HB5248 was referred to the Committee On Criminal Justice. It will have to pass the committee by a majority vote before moving on to the full House for a vote.

In Michigan: take all the steps to support this bill at THIS LINK.

All other states, start at THIS LINK.