A state lawmaker representing Silicon Valley wants to rein in a cutting-edge law enforcement technology that enables police to stockpile digital personal information on motorists and build a portrait of their whereabouts.
Agencies across the nation are swiftly adopting the use of license-plate recognition devices, which are affixed to the outside of their patrol cars and scan passing vehicles. The tags are automatically compared with databases of outstanding warrants, stolen cars and more.
Each scan captures and stores an array of data, regardless of whether the driver is a wanted criminal, including the geographic location of the car along with the date and time of the scan. Privacy advocates are alarmed that the technology could allow police to paint a picture of where innocent Americans have been and when.
Police counter that license-plate scanners allow them to track down wanted criminals and stop perpetrators on the street by way of an in-car alert without having to manually search each tag. Investigators also can search where a license plate has been scanned previously and go back to see if the person is at that location.
State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, has proposed a bill that would require local law enforcement agencies in California to retain data captured by license-plate scanners for only 60 days, except when the information is being used in felony investigations. Such rules already exist for the California Highway Patrol.