California Senate Considers Bill Limiting Sale of License Plate Data

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The California Senate is currently considering a bill to limit the sale or sharing of the information gathered by license plate readers to law enforcement only.

We have previously written about the availability of this license plate recognition data (LPR; also known as license plate reader data) from the investigative research database TLO.com. Currently, TLO is the only investigative research database/service source we are aware of for that information.

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Pending California Senate Bill 893 (SB 893) would extend the period law enforcement could retain LPR data and limit access to this kind of data outside of law enforcement. SB 893 would prohibit the sale of LPR "data for any purpose" or the sharing of LPR data "to an agency that is not a law enforcement agency or an individual who is not a law enforcement officer."

Additionally, under current California law, LPR data cannot be retained for more than 60 days. SB 893 seemingly extends that period beyond five years but limits access to data held for more than five years "only for law enforcement purposes, pursuant to warrant or other court order."

With an apparent aim to protect the privacy of California residents, SB 893 also contains a provision that allows "an individual whose information is sold or disclosed in violation of this title [to] bring a civil action and shall be entitled to recover any and all consequential and incidental damages, including all costs and attorney’s fees."

According to TLO's original press release announcing their "Vehicle Sightings" license plate reader database, their collection encompasses "a massive database of one BILLION vehicle sightings and the addition of up to 50 million new sightings each month." "Vehicle Sightings provides valuable information for locating subjects and investigating the historical whereabouts of individuals and vehicles." While it is not stated how these sightings are captured, law enforcement agencies and auto reposession companies have been utilizing similar license plate capturing technology for some time.

At a recent live MCLE investigative research seminar a lawyer told us how he was able to use license plate reader data to locate the vehicle of an individual who had been avoiding service of process - and determine that the location where the vehicle was parked was the individual's place of employment. The attorney was then able to locate the individual and serve the papers. Passage of California SB 893 would apparently end this kind of access to non-law enforcement users in California.

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