High-speed license plate cameras and the storage and use of license plate data causes concern for privacy. Law enforcement and privately contracted individuals with high-speed cameras are able to drive by, scan the immediate area, and locate license plates on vehicles that may be part of a criminal investigation or a hotlist of stolen vehicles, for example. Storing and sharing the data cases many people to ask whether this activity is legal. The Drivers Privacy Protection Act is the primary consumer protection law that would apply, but in many instances, there is no violation of the law. However, as the use of this type of technology expands and is applied to other uses, some against the interests of consumers, the laws could be updated to cover high-speed cameras used to scan, save and share collected license plate information.
High-speed cameras can be used to solve crimes and repossess vehicles.
Police cars and repossession spotter vehicles equipped with special high-speed cameras may be watching and taking pictures of your license plate. As reported in a recent article examines this technology, “There might have been dozens of other cars in your lane, too many for an ordinary camera to snap a picture of every one. But the police camera got them all. Even if your car was just parked at a curb, the camera would have grabbed that picture and recorded it when it was taken.[i]”
License plate readers (LPRs) on police vehicles could help law enforcement find stolen vehicles; locate suspects and persons of interests, in their criminal investigations, for example. Repo drivers with a hotlist of vehicles on their list can quickly be alerted when they drive past the vehicle with a license plate match. Insurance companies may also benefit from LPRs when investigating garage fraud, the practice of registering vehicles other than where they are actually kept, such as a relative’s address in the suburbs or out-of-state where the insurance rates are less.
The purpose of Driver’s Privacy Protection Act is the protection of drivers’ private information.
Adopted in 1994, following the stalking and murder of actress, Rebecca Schaeffer, the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act was enacted to protect the privacy of a drivers’ identity. Schaeffer’s killer obtained her address through the California Department of Motor Vehicle records.
The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA)[ii] of 1994 is part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, and it governs the privacy and disclosure of personal information gathered by state motor vehicle and driver licensing departments. The DPPA also applies to the authorized recipients of personal information under the law and it requires recordkeeping requirements. The “personal information contained in an individual’s motor vehicle records can include the driver’s name, address, phone number, Social Security number, photograph, height, weight, gender, age, certain medical or disability information, and in some states, fingerprints.
For more information on the DPPA, please read our article, The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act Helps Prevent People from Tracking You Down.
Should high-speed license plate data collection be illegal under the Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act?
Advocates for the use of high-speed cameras in license plate data collection state that license plate cameras, LPRs, gather information on license plates and vehicles, not people. Executive chairman of Digital Recognition Network, Todd Hodnett, stated in a recent news article, “There are plenty of parties out there that are opposed to LPRs for various privacy issues. Never once have I ever seen one of them come forward with the fact that connecting license plate-recognition data to personally identifiable information is protected by law.[iii]”
Consumer rights advocates may disagree with representatives from data collection companies using high-speed cameras to collect license plate data. The link between a license plate number and its owner may be the subject of future litigation and legislation, as more consumers stand up for their privacy rights and in opposition to state and private companies engaged in this form of data collection. Once the data is collected, it could fall into the wrong hands. Once a hacker or insider opens the bridge between license plate information and the owner (and their private information), we all have cause for concern.
Right now, the DPPA does not concern repo drivers, when they are hired by banks to repossess vehicles, where the bank already knows the names of the borrowers and all the information they voluntarily submitted to the bank when applying for an auto loan. Repo drivers aside, the privacy and security risks associated with high-speed license plate recognition and data collection are still compelling.
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The Zamparo Law Group, P.C. is a consumer protection law and litigation firm, representing consumer plaintiffs. Zamparo Law Group in the northwest suburbs of Chicago sues and wins against the companies who refuse to follow the law.
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[i] The Buffalo News, High-speed license plate cameras spark privacy concerns as they help solve crimes, by Matthew Spina, Apr. 10, 2016.
[iii] The Buffalo News, License plate camera data’s private use raises questions, Apr 10, 2016.