A point of contention for the law enforcement community for some time has been public dissent over the use of police license plate scanners. While the scanners are costly to departments, the real point of contention has surrounded when the data is collected, where it is stored, and for how long. This is a growing issue considering 71% of police agencies now use the scanners (increasing to 85% over the next 5 years) with success rates of ‘identifying’ crime as low as 0.005%- 0.0017%.
These cameras take upwards of 100 photos per minute without the use of human oversight. Local and county police departments as well as sheriff’s departments collect and store driver information anywhere from 30 days to a year, while some departments never purge the data. Essentially, individual police forces are establishing a database for millions of drivers, the majority of whom have never even committed a crime.
With the constant headlines around the issue, statistics have consistently shown that many law enforcement agencies have no policy for erasing the data and even overlapping departments have conflicting protocols. In Minnesota, the information collected is erased within 48 hours whereas California has no policy is in place to outline guidelines for purging information collected via license plate scanners.
Organizations such as the ACLU and national leaders like Rand Paul have long opposed the collection, and now storage, of this information without cause which helped halt a national database that was proposed by the Department of Homeland Security earlier this year and led the push for New Hampshire to ban the cameras all together.
Now, it looks like the initiative is coming to Georgia. Enter Representative John Pezold (R-Columbus). Representative Pezold is drafting legislation which will require that all departments -local, county and Sheriff – delete stored license plate numbers and information within 30 days of collection. The legislation would also prohibit any Georgia agency, other law enforcement agency, or federal agency from obtaining, viewing, or transferring the information without a warrant or cause, barring interstate or multi-agency issues.
Opponents of the legislation will likely offer a two-pronged argument:
- Setting a state standard circumvents local control. Perhaps, in a sense, but we are talking about privacy concerns of civilians that are currently protected at the varying discretion of elected and appointed officials.
- 30 days is too long.
If you support the use of license plate scanners, this will likely mean nothing to you. If you would like all license plate scanners in the state of Georgia banned, this legislation will not satiate your concerns, but it will impose restraints on the system under which we are currently operating.
We must operate from the original premise that driving is not a Right but a Privilege, therefore a program that supports Public Safety is one to be embraced. The question then becomes one of how long to maintain that information. Dealing with that question should be the sole issue, period. Setting a time frame should not be that difficult and provides a means to satisfy those who are fearful of “information misuse”. I would remind those that question this that your cell phone bill includes all numbers called during a monthly billing time frame, the time and duration of the call, and the ability to provide information as to where the call originated from (physically) and where it was completed (physically). The technology that allows us to map locations, GPS, is ever present in todays society.