In an all too rare move against the continued deployment of automated license plate readers (LPRs), Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) vetoed a plan to acquire the scanners in the state, citing grave privacy issues. The move to use the readers had previously passed both houses of the Louisiana legislature by a large margin.
Law enforcement agencies nationwide are increasingly relying on these specialized cameras to scan cars and compare them at incredible speeds to a "hot list" of stolen or wanted vehicles or people. The data collected is kept for weeks, months, or even years and can be used for a variety of purposes, amounting a mass dragnet of people-tracking that greatly erodes privacy.
Jindal wrote in detail about his reasons for rejecting the legislation.
Senate Bill No. 250 would authorize the use of automatic license plate reader camera surveillance programs in various parishes throughout the state. The personal information captured by these cameras, which includes a person’s vehicle location, would be retained in a central database and accessible to not only participating law enforcement agencies but other specified private entities for a period of time regardless of whether or not the system detects that a person is in violation of vehicle insurance requirements. Camera programs such as these that make private information readily available beyond the scope of law enforcement, pose a fundamental risk to personal privacy and create large pools of information belonging to law abiding citizens that unfortunately can be extremely vulnerable to theft or misuse.
For these reasons, I have vetoed Senate Bill No. 250 and hereby return it to the Senate.
The bill would have limited the retention period to 60 days, though still allowed private companies and other parties to use the records of law abiding citizens.
Technology website Ars found earlier this year that of 4.6 million license plate records collected by police in Oakland, Calif. over four years just 0.16 percent of those reads were "hits."
The site also discovered that the data is incredibly revealing, as they were able to find the address of a member of city council using nothing but the records, a data visualization tool, and his license plate number.
The move towards the license plate readers creates a vast dragnet of information, similar to the phone records collected by the NSA, that allow for detailed tracking of individual people in near real-time.
LPR data being used by third parties effectively turns police departments into trackers, whereby police track the movements of people and then sell the data to companies and other groups for a profit, allowing them detailed access to law-abiding citizens movements.
LPR technology has been widely condemned by human rights groups for its invasive nature and ineffectiveness as a policing tool.