Texas bill would limit use of license plate readers

November 26, 2018

Keith Goble


An effort underway at the Texas statehouse would set rules for the practice of tracking movements of drivers through automatic license plate readers. 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 business, such as repossession companies and vehicle insurance companies, also use the technology that can capture about 1,800 images per minute.

The technology is not without flaws. Conditions that include bad weather, poor lighting, dirt on plates, and even background colors can result in false matches.

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

To date, at least 18 states have enacted rules relating to the use of automatic license plate readers. Among the group, there are at least nine states to place restrictions on government or law enforcement use of the technology. There are at least 12 states that limit how long data can be kept, and at least four states specify that data is exempt under public records laws.

Earlier this year legislators took action on the issue in statehouses that include Georgia, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Vermont.

If one Texas state lawmaker gets his way, the Lone Star State soon will be added to the list of states to set rules on use of the technology.

Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, has filed for consideration during the 2019 regular session a bill to specify who can use license plate readers. Specifically, SB78 would authorize a law enforcement agency or municipal parking enforcement authority to use the devices.

The bill also specifies that images and any related data collected must be destroyed “promptly” after collection unless the vehicle is involved in a criminal offense or ongoing criminal investigation.

Hall’s bill can be considered during the regular session that begins on Jan. 8.