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

ALBANY, NY (Feb. 19, 2015) – A bill introduced in the New York General Assembly would put strict limitations on the use of automated license plate reader systems (ALPRs) by the state, and in doing so, would have a major impact on federal efforts to tap in to state and local systems to track millions of people for the crime of driving.

Introduced by Asm. Jeffrey Dinowitz, Assembly Bill 5233 (A5233) would ban law enforcement in the state from using ALPRs as a general location-tracking tool of millions of drivers, and would ban the sharing of legitimately-obtained license plate data with outside sources. It would also prohibit their use by non-law enforcement agencies as well. It reads, in part:

It shall be unlawful for any business, individual, partnership, corporation, association, or state or local government non-law enforcement entity to use an automatic license plate reader system.

The prohibition on data sharing in A5233 would help block a nationwide, federal license-plate tracking program.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the federal government, via the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), has been tracking the location of millions of cars for nearly eight years, all without a warrant, or even public notice of the policy. The secret domestic intelligence-gathering program “scans and stores hundreds of millions of records about motorists.”

Most of these tracking systems are operated by state and local law enforcement agencies, but are paid for by federal grant money. The DEA then taps into the local database and is able to track the whereabouts of millions of people – for the simple act of driving – without having to operate a huge network itself. In those few situations where ALPRs are operated by federal agencies, they’re generally done so with express approval of the legislature, and operational assistance from state or local law enforcement.

Since a majority of federal license plate tracking data comes from state and local law enforcement, passage of HB344 would be a big step towards blocking that program from continuing in Montana.

“No sharing of ALPR data means no federal license plate tracking program,” said Mike Maharrey of the Tenth Amendment Center. “More importantly, this limits government power and advances liberty on both the state and national level.”

The ALPRs also known to capture photographs of vehicle occupants. An internal DEA memo obtained by the ACLU “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.’”

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.

The bill would allow ALPRs to be used for some situations, such as identifying vehicles with outstanding parking violations or a failure to register. But, even that data couldn’t be shared with outside sources, such as the DEA, for its location-tracking program.

Passage would represent a significant step towards ending the tracking of millions of people whose only crime is driving.

A5233 has been assigned to the Assembly Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee, where it will need to pass by a majority vote before it can move forward.

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