By Robert Kittle
A bill prefiled in the South Carolina House would ban law enforcement agencies from using automatic license plate reader systems, which allow them to constantly photograph and run computer checks on the license plates of the vehicles around them.
"We don't need more government in our lives," says Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, who prefiled the bill. State lawmakers go into session Tuesday, January 8th.
He says the automatic license plate readers store data on cars and where they are at a given time, so they could be used to track someone throughout the day.
"Can government also take that information and sell it? Is the government going to protect it the way they did our tax information? Are they going to do a better job of it? And until we decipher all of those issues, the best thing is to just ban it and let's figure out how we're going to get the information and what to do with the information once we collect it," Rutherford says.
The systems consist of several cameras mounted on patrol cars. Those cameras constantly take pictures of the license plates and backs of vehicles that are passing the patrol car, or that the patrol car passes when it goes by parked cars. The license plates are then checked for outstanding warrants, against stolen vehicle and license plate databases and to make sure that the tag matches the vehicle.
The Spartanburg Public Safety Department has two systems, which it bought using federal grant money. Spokesperson Capt. Regina Nowak says the department doesn't have enough cameras, people or time to track people's whereabouts even if they wanted to, but the systems are useful for finding stolen vehicles and tags. The agency does not store the data it collects, but sends it to the State Law Enforcement Division.
Sig Phinney, coordinator of the state Automatic License Plate Recognition program at SLED, says the agency limits access to the data to only accredited law enforcement agencies and only for specific reasons.