Louisiana governor vetoes license plate reader legislation

Bobby Jindal said he had privacy concerns about provisions of the bill

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has vetoed legislation that would provide for the pilot use of automatic license plate readers by law enforcement to identify stolen vehicles and uninsured motorists.

Like GPS trackers on vehicles and so-called Stingrays or "IMSI catchers" that track the location of mobile phones by mimicking cellphone towers, automatic license plate readers have become a controversial privacy issue, with many civil rights groups opposing their indiscriminate use.

In a letter, explaining his decision to return the bill to the state Senate, Jindal said the personal information captured by the automatic license plate reader cameras, which includes a person's vehicle location, would be retained in a central database and accessible to not only law enforcement agencies but also to private entities for a period of time, regardless of whether or not the system detects that a person is in violation of vehicle insurance rules.

"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," he added.

The bill had earlier been passed by the Louisiana House of Representatives besides the Senate. A pilot program under the bill, called Statewide Motor Vehicle Theft and Uninsured Motorists Identification Program, provided for data captured by the cameras to be accessed by local law enforcement agencies as well as external entities selected to operate the technology and software for the program. Data collected could only be used for law enforcement.

The captured plate data would include GPS coordinates, date and time, photograph, license plate number, "and any other data captured by or derived from an automatic license plate recognition system and includes both historical and active data," according to the text of the legislation. The data could be retained by a law enforcement agency for not more than 60 days, unless it was being used as evidence of a violation of the compulsory motor vehicle insurance law and various crimes.

Civil rights groups objects to the dragnet collection and storage of license plate data of vehicles. The database with scanned and stored license plate data can later be queried to find out important information about an user, such as which church the person attends, whether he was at a political rally or how often he visits the doctor, according to these groups, which also object to the collection and storage of the data by law enforcement at random ahead of establishing a reason that the information is required in an investigation.

Most of these groups do not, however, object to law enforcement comparing a number on the fly with a "hot list" of vehicles that have been stolen or used in a crime.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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