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To the Governor’s Desk: New Hampshire Bill to Expand ALPR Use Would Still Help Block National License Plate Tracking Program

CONCORD, N.H. (April 27, 2016) – The New Hampshire legislature has passed a bill that would expand authorized uses of automatic license plate readers, but still maintains tight restrictions on the devices and places 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. Ken Peterson (R) introduced House Bill 1154 (HB1154) earlier this year. As passed, the bill would allow law enforcement agencies to use automatic license plate readers for specific law enforcement functions. Under the current law considered the most stringent in the nation, the use of ALPRs is prohibited except for use along toll roads as outlined in a statute prohibiting surveillance along New Hampshire highways. That statute will remain in effect, but if Gov. Maggie Hassan signs HB1154 into law, the permissible uses of ALPRs will expand.

The House passed the measure 175-112 back in March. It cleared the Senate on a voice vote last week. It will now go to Gov. Hassan’s desk for her signature.

HB1154 would allow law enforcement to use ALPRs to identify stolen vehicles, to locate missing persons, to locate persons with outstanding warrants, to locate trucks in violation of commercial requirements, and to locate vehicles associated with specific criminal investigations. The law stipulates that a positive match alone does not constitution reasonable suspicion to pull a vehicle over. ”

“The officer shall develop independent reasonable suspicion for the stop or immediately confirm visually that the license plate on the vehicle matches the image of the license plate displayed on the LPR and confirm by other means that the license plate number is on one of the lists specified in paragraph V.”

Most importantly, HB1154 generally prohibits the storage and sharing of ALPR data.

“Records of number plates read by each LPR shall not be recorded or transmitted anywhere and shall be purged from the system within 3 minutes of their capture in such a manner that they are destroyed and are not recoverable, unless an alarm resulted in an arrest, a citation, or protective custody, or identified a vehicle that was the subject of a missing person or wanted broadcast, in which case the data on the particular number plate may be retained until final court disposition of the case.  Captured license plate data obtained for the purposes described in paragraph V shall not be used or shared for any other purpose.”

The legislation also prohibits ALPRs from taking photographs of drivers or passengers inside vehicles.

While HB1154 would expand the use of ALPRs in the state, it’s restrictions on data retention and sharing would still be among some of the best in the country. I would continue 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 SB1144 would take a major step toward blocking that program from continuing in Oklahoma. 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.

HB1154 expands the use of license plate reader, but would still put 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 Hampshire.