Lawmakers Mull Police License Plate Scanner Restrictions

Posted at 11:14 PM, Oct 27, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-28 01:17:00-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Police Department has had license plate recognition technology for seven months.

Michigan lawmakers and the American Civil Liberties Union want to make sure the license plate registration data isn’t stored for too long.

With the help of the high-speed license plate scanners, patrol officers can run 5,000 plates per shift. Manually, the department said an officer can run 50 to 100 plates per shift.

The tool helps police catch fugitives and people with unpaid tickets. However, House bill 4891 would limit how long law enforcement agencies in Michigan can store license plate registration data.

Under the bill, GRPD would have to purge data within 48 hours. Chief Kevin Belk testified before the House Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday.

According to the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, Belk takes issue with the 48 hour data deletion requirement.

Belk favors the technology`s effectiveness. He said since February, 17 stolen vehicles have been recovered. Twenty-eight warrants have been cleared from the system, thanks to the new technology.

He went on to say that the two day data purge requirement would have made it impossible to catch one particular robbery suspect, since that search took more than two days.

The American Civil Liberties Union sides with the bill and published a national report about the issue.

In a letter to Michigan lawmakers, ACLU legislative director Shellie Weisberg said, “The government should not be storing data about people who are not even suspected of doing anything wrong, and the fact that some jurisdictions delete the records quickly shows that it is a completely reasonable and workable policy.”

She said the ACLU doesn’t “object to the use of these systems to flag cars that are stolen or belong to fugitives.”

However, she said the ACLU “believes there is a dire need for rules to make sure that this technology isn’t used for unbridled government surveillance.”

Weisberg recommends purging the data within days or weeks not months or years. Also, she said drivers should have a way to know if their license plate data is stored by law enforcement.

The ACLU`s deputy director said that they`re in communication with the Grand Rapids Police Department regarding its policies.