Proposed license plate scan regulations get thumbs-down from police

Oct 20, 2013

Credit sideshowmom / MorgueFile

More police agencies are using license plate readers while they're out on patrol, and that has some people worried about privacy.

The state House Criminal Justice Committee is discussing a bill that would limit the use of license plate readers  and require a purge of data after 48 hours.

The readers are usually mounted on patrol cars and automatically scan vehicle license plates. The scans are then cross-referenced for outstanding warrants or stolen vehicles, and in some cities, even unpaid parking tickets.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the data shouldn't be kept indefinitely.

Grand Rapids Police Chief Kevin Belk doesn't agree. He says the city has been using the license plate readers since February, and that it can take time for officers to check out a scan that results in a hit.

"We do store the data into a server so we can go back and use that data to help us with criminal investigations, which we've also found useful, Belk says. "We've recovered 17 stolen vehicles, arrested 28 wanted individuals and recovered about $65,000 worth of outstanding parking fines through the use of them."

Belk says  the license plate scans also led to an arrest in a homicide case in Grand Rapids.

Michigan Sheriffs Association spokesman Terrence Jungel says police aren't insensitive to the public's right to privacy or to be free from unreasonable government intrusion.

"But this is nothing more than numbers and letters. It's not storing anything in any database that isn't already stored in a government database somewhere," Jungel says.

He says the license plate readers are also an important terrorism prevention tool and that the scanners are used at international border crossings.

The ACLU says the technology doesn't have enough regulation and puts innocent people's privacy at risk.

More information: Michigan House Bill 4981.