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New York Bill Would Limit ALPR Use, Help Block National License Plate Tracking Program

ALBANY, NY (Jan. 21, 2019)- A bill introduced in the New York Senate would place stringent restrictions on the use of automatic license plate reader technologies (ALPRs) by state law enforcement agencies. Passage into law 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.

Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-NYC) introduced Senate Bill 40 (S40) on Jan, 9. The legislation would strictly limit ALPR use to specific law enforcement applications. The bill would also place stringent restraints on how gathered data is retained and shared.

“Captured plate data obtained for the purposes described under this section shall not be used or shared for any other purpose and shall not be preserved for more than one hundred eighty days except pursuant to a preservation or disclosure request under this subdivision, or a warrant.”

Additionally, S40 would prohibit the sale, trading or exchanging captured license plate data for any purpose. Under the proposed law, any data captured or improperly maintained could not be introduced by the state in any grand jury or criminal court proceeding or in any civil or administrative proceeding brought by the state or any government office or official.

The legislation also bans the use of ALPRs by non-law enforcement agencies in most cases-effectively prohibiting potential, non-state bad actors from utilizing this dangerous and invasive technology against private citizens for nefarious purposes.

Significantly, S40 stipulates that the creation of permanent databases based on information gathered by ALPRs is strictly prohibited. The presence of this language in the bill would make it highly improbable that such data would end up in the multitude of federal databases now being stored and disseminated through federal fusion centers.

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 vehicles through data provided by ALPRs operated on a state and local level. They’ve engaged in this for nearly a decade, 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 “crime” of driving – without having to operate a huge network itself.

ALPRs can scan, capture and record thousands of license plates every minute and store them in massive databases, along with date, time and location information.

Records obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) through open records requests encompassed information compiled by 200 law enforcement agencies that utilize ALPRs. The data revealed more than 2.5 billion license plate scans in just two years (2016 and 2017).

Perhaps more concerning, this gigantic sample of license plate scans reveals that 99.5 percent of this data was collected regardless of whether the vehicle or its owner were suspected of being involved in criminal activity. On average, agencies share this data with a minimum of 160 other agencies. In some cases, agencies share this data with as many as 800 other agencies.

Police generally configure ALPRs to store the photograph, the license plate number, and the date, time, and location of a vehicle’s license plate, which is bad enough. But according to records obtained by the ACLU via a Freedom of Information Act request, these systems also capture photographs of drivers and their passengers.

With the FBI rolling out a nationwide facial-recognition program in the fall of 2014, and the federal government building a giant biometric database with pictures provided by the states and corporate friends, the feds can potentially access stored photographs of drivers and passengers, along with detailed data revealing their location and activities. With this kind of information, government agents can easily find individuals without warrants or oversight, for any reason whatsoever.

Since a majority of federal license plate tracking data comes from state and local law enforcement, laws banning or even restricting ALPR use are essential. As more states pass such laws, the end result becomes more clear. No data equals no federal license plate tracking program.

Passage of S40 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 New York, and elsewhere.

WHAT’S NEXT

S40 was referred to Senate Consumer Protection Committee where it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.