Louisiana Approves License Plate Readers


Louisiana has approved the use of license plate readers by law enforcement. Under the terms of a newly passed bill, local law enforcement will be able to scan automatically for criminal or other information based on a license plate number.

The use of license plate readers will start as a pilot program that will run through 2021. The bill still keeps red light cameras from tracking plates.

The measure is on Governor Jindal’s desk, who is expected to sign off on it.

CivSource has reported on the growing use of license plate readers by law enforcement. Measures that allow for the technology typically cite car theft, abductions, or lapses in insurance as the reasons for tracking individuals. However, the ACLU notes in a report on the technology that, “the information captured by the readers – including the license plate number, and the date, time, and location of every scan – is being collected and sometimes pooled into regional sharing systems.”

As more police departments move toward analytics based policing systems, including those that predict criminal patterns, it is likely that these databases of information could be used in those systems.

According to a piece in the New Orleans Advocate, Louisiana police already maintain “35 stationary license plate readers around the state that have been credited for significant drug interdictions and the recovery of missing children. Authorities say those cameras, which generate some 9 million images a month, can prove invaluable when they are searching for a specific vehicle or know just part of a license plate number.”

Louisana police say the database of plates is deleted after 90 days, although that still provides a three-month dataset on literally anyone passing by plate readers, one that could be quite detailed if an individual is then followed before being charged with a crime.

Similar bills are pending in 18 states. The National Conference of State Legislatures has a full rundown of each bill here.

As CivSource previously reported, even if local law enforcement has specific operational parameters, they may be different from federal rules. That reality can make things murky if the feds are involved in activities outside of Washington D.C.

Another piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch noted that Virginia State Police recorded the license plate numbers of attendees at political rallies in support of President Obama during the last election cycle. Every single tag was recorded. Police officials can record license tags although those recordings are typically taken while on the road to find stolen vehicles or fugitives. This request was made by the Secret Service, which asked for the lists as a “security precaution.” What the Secret Service did with that information after the rallies is unclear.

The DEA has also built a massive database of license plates including the driving records of current and former government officials. The DEA says it uses the information to track drug-related activities. However, a Wall Street Journal piece highlights the expansion of this network throughout the US. State and local law enforcement have also been given access to the network for their own tracking purposes.