Pennsylvania bill would limit use of license plate readers

October 4, 2017

Keith Goble


Work continues this fall at the Pennsylvania statehouse. One House bill introduced in recent weeks would implement restrictions on the state’s use of automated license plate readers.

The practice of tracking drivers’ movements through automated license plate readers, or ALPRs, has the attention of state officials in Pennsylvania and around the country. The devices are mounted on police vehicles, road signs or traffic lights.

High-tech cameras to capture the date, time and location of passing vehicles are used in some capacity by about 600 local and state police departments and other state and federal agencies, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Private businesses, such as repossession companies and vehicle insurance companies, also use the technology, which can capture about 1,800 images per minute.

Critics say use of the scanners amounts to warrantless searches. Supporters say the scanners are not intended to infringe on peoples’ privacy.

Pennsylvania law already permits police, parking authorities and entities not in law enforcement to access the scanners.

Reps. Greg Rothman, R-Cumberland, and Robert Matzie, D-Ambridge, say use of the devices will continue to grow. Their bill, HB1811, specifies who can use plate readers, how data can be collected, and the length of time data can be kept.

Vehicle data could be kept for up to one year. At that time, captured data must be destroyed.

Data collected prior to the bill’s passage would be required to be destroyed within 60 days of the bill’s effective date.

“Our concern isn’t whether or not to use ALPRs to collect the data, since they can be an invaluable tool for law enforcement, but rather the right to have the information of Pennsylvanians kept private if they are doing nothing wrong,” Rothman stated in a memo.

To date, at least 14 states have enacted rules relating to the use of ALPRs. Among the group, there are six states restricting government or law enforcement use of the technology. Eight states limit how long data may be kept, and four states specify that data is exempt under public records laws.

The Pennsylvania bill, HB1811, awaits consideration in the House Transportation Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Pennsylvania, click here.

Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.