#4 – Placing First Amendment Restrictions on License Plate Photos

What’s so iAWFUL?

Legislation based on a misinformation campaign would eliminate the ability of new technology to serve the public good. Moreover, it runs into the bedrock first amendment right to take pictures in public places – of license plates that are required by law to be publicly displayed.

(GA HB93), (VT S18)

New bills limiting commercial photos of publicly visible license plates would violate the first amendment, confiscate company assets, and impair law enforcement investigations that save lives and solve crimes.

License plate reader (LPR) data captured and used by both law enforcement and private entities are solving crimes and saving money. Financial services and insurance companies use LPR data to recover both stolen cars and automobiles with delinquent loans.  LPR is used to enforce payment for parking garages and tollbooths.  And you’re seeing more LPR cameras monitoring vehicles entering private neighborhoods and high-security sites such as airports, train stations, water treatment facilities, and power plants.

But legislation based on misinformation campaign is placing the ability for LPRs to serve the public good in peril.

Moreover, it brings into question a tenant of first amendment protections – the right to take pictures in public.

LPR technology uses high-speed cameras to take photos of license plates in public places and then log a time and a location. It would be the same thing as walking down the street taking pictures on a smart phone and then looking at the photos afterwards for license plates captured within.

But because a computer does it – it’s bad. This is part of a greater theme we are facing. Technology is making legacy practices more efficient and for some reason that is bad.

Some states are overcoming this fear of technology and embracing sensible restrictions. Texas’s HB 3929 improves on existing Maryland protections of DMV data by creating reporting requirements for law enforcement.

We should avoid the negative stigma of technology and these bills should be opposed not just because they improperly demonize technological innovation, but they do so in a way that costs millions of dollars and makes it harder to solve thousands of crimes without invading personal privacy.

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The iAWFUL reflects the editorial views of the Executive Director of NetChoice and does not necessarily reflect the views of all NetChoice members.

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