Legislation would regulate use of license plate scanners, data collected

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Published: Jul. 23, 2020 at 4:59 PM CDT
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By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News 

Proposed legislation would allow state and local law enforcement to use license plate scanners to determine ownership of vehicles and routes traveled, but puts limits on the use and storage of collected data.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, pre-filed the bill for the legislative session that starts in February. 

The bill comes as the Alabama Department of Transportation considers allowing law enforcement agencies access to ALDOT rights-of-way and structures to install license plate readers and other surveillance equipment.

The department’s proposed rules on the equipment are still under review, Tony Harris, government relations manager for ALDOT, told Alabama Daily News on Wednesday. 

Orr said he wanted to make sure that in the future, no information collected by law enforcement could be used by other parties, including collection agencies.

“We don’t need the government tracking citizens’ movements without significant limitations,” Orr said. “I’m fully supportive of law enforcement using technology to catch criminals, but we certainly don’t need them spying on the movements of ordinary citizens.” 

Senate Bill 2 says captured license plate data shall be stored immediately upon collection and may not be accessed except for a law enforcement purpose. Data must be destroyed 30 months after collection unless it “is the subject matter of a toll violation or for a law enforcement purpose.”

Law enforcement agencies may share collected information. The bill also requires agencies using license plate scanners to adopt and publicize a written policy for their use.

In May, Harris said it would be ALDOT’s practice to limit the use of devices to law enforcement and public safety.

Several Alabama cities already use some of the devices ALDOT is considering. In 2018, the city of Huntsville put gunshot detectors and surveillance cameras on a few streets to deter crime. Montgomery and Birmingham have used gunshot detectors for several years to locate and track gunfire. 

Senate Bill 2 is co-sponsored by Sens. Greg Albritton, R-Range, Tom Butler, R-Huntsville, Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, and Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper.

Contact tracing

Orr also filed for the 2021 legislative session Senate Bill 1, which would put into law rules for contact tracing — identifying people who may have been infected — by public health agencies during the COVID-19 pandemic. The rules would be repealed in May 2022.