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South Carolina Bill Would Limit ALPR Data, Helps Block National License Plate Tracking Program

COLUMBIA, S.C. (Dec. 27, 2018) – A bill prefiled in the South Carolina House would limit the storage and sharing of information collected by Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) in the state. The proposed 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.

Rep. Todd Rutherford (R-Columbia) filed House Bill 3366 (H.3366) on Dec. 18. The legislation would restrict the use of ALPRs to specific government functions and places strict limits on the storage and sharing of any data collected by such systems.

Under the proposed laws, ALPRs could only be used by law enforcement for “the comparison of captured license plate data with data held by the Department of Motor Vehicles, SLED, the Department of Public Safety, the National Crime Information Center, a database created by law enforcement for the purposes of an ongoing investigation.” ALPRs would also be allowed for parking enforcement, controlling access to secure areas, and commercial vehicle (truck) enforcement,

H.3366’s strength lies in its strict limits on data retention and sharing. It prohibits the use or sharing of data captured by ALPRs for any reason other than the specified purposes and requires deletion of all information within 90 days unless it is part of an ongoing investigation. Data used in an investigation must be destroyed “at the conclusion of either an investigation that does not result in any criminal charges being filed; or any criminal action undertaken in the matter involving the captured license plate data.” Other than information that “indicates evidence of an offense,” a governmental entity authorized to use an ALPR “shall not sell, trade, or exchange captured plate data for any purpose.”

Passage of H.3366 would prevent the state from creating permanent databases using information collected by ALPRs, and makes it less likely that such data will end up in federal databases.

IMPACT ON FEDERAL PROGRAMS

The ACLU estimates that less than 0.2 percent of plate scans are linked to criminal activity or vehicle registration issues.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the federal government, via the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) tracks the location of millions of vehicles. 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, often 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 this legislation would take a major step toward blocking that program from continuing in South Carolina. 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 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, 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 this legislation would take 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 South Carolina, and elsewhere.

WHAT’S NEXT

H.3366 was referred to the House Judiciary Committee where it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process. The South Carolina legislature convenes on Jan. 8, 2019.