STATE HOUSE — House Majority Whip John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Portsmouth, Tiverton), alongside House Minority Whip Blake A. Filippi (R-Dist. 36, New Shoreham, Charlestown, South Kingstown, Westerly), has introduced introduce legislation that would prohibit surveillance on state roadways unless specifically authorized by statute or court order.
Automated license plate readers (ALPRs) capture computer-readable images of license plates. The systems have raised concerns that the information collected may be inaccurate, shared without restrictions, retained longer than necessary, and used or abused in ways that could infringe upon citizens’ privacy.
Whip Edwards’ legislation (2017-H 5989) would not only prohibit unauthorized use of the devices, but also provide for the confidentiality of information collected or stored.
“Rhode Island residents are entitled to their privacy,” Representative Edwards said. “This measure would not stop our law enforcement officers from tracking down those who engage in criminal activity. It also does nothing to inhibit the state from operating toll booths. What it does is protect our citizens’ private information obtained through global positioning satellites, EZ-Passes and transponders, radio frequency identification devices and automated license plate recognition systems, from a public search. In a world where we have to worry about things like identity theft and hackers, it’s necessary to have these safeguards.”
Whip Filippi added that “Our legislation follows the directive from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Alito: that it is largely up to the various legislatures to restrict the use of privacy-infringing technology in this modern world. We will makes great strides to protect privacy from unwarranted government intrusion with this legislation.”
The large amount of ALPR data being collected is growing more quickly than are policies and procedures governing their use. ALPRs capture and retain the location information and photographs of all vehicles, regardless of whether the driver is a suspect or wanted for a crime.
Inaccuracies in databases used with ALPRs could lead to false matches of license plates to innocent individuals. Another concern is that workers with access to ALPR data could misuse it for personal reasons or share or sell it without authorization.
Under Edwards’ bill, all information collected through acceptable forms of surveillance under the law would not be subject to the Access to Public Records Act (APRA) or Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) without a court order. Employees of the state would be able to access this information for customer service, statistical, administrative, or legal purposes, as long as it is justified as necessary to performing their duties. Additionally, no information or data would be stored for more than five years unless a court orders otherwise.
With this legislation, Rhode Island would join 13 other states that have enacted legislation limiting the use of ALPRs. Six of those states place restrictions on government or law enforcement use. Eight states limit how long data can be retained. Florida, Maine, Maryland and Utah laws specify that ALPR data is confidential and exempt under public records laws.
In addition to Whips Edwards and Filippi, the bill is cosponsored by Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34 South Kingstown, Narragansett), Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick) and Rep. Dennis M. Canario (D-Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton). It has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.