Bill to restrict police vehicle tracking fails in California Assembly

Law enforcement has more sophisticated technology than ever before. From Smartphone tracking to license plate readers, police are able to follow unsuspecting suspects using technology that was unheard of just decades ago.

One such technology receiving scrutiny is automated license plate readers. These mounted cameras record the time and location of parked cars for use in tracking suspects. Readers "hit" on cars that are sought in connection to a crime. However, police departments also store data for an unspecified amount of time on an unspecified number of vehicles, whether or not they are ultimately charged with a crime.

LPR companies also sell data to third parties, such as towing companies and private investigators. LPRs can be potent tools. In the first month of implementation, the use of LPRs led to 495 stolen vehicle arrests in California alone.

But the technology, in addition to pushing the envelope on Fourth Amendment rights, has also been subject to police abuse. One officer, for example, used the LPR system to track a woman not suspected of any crime that he met while on duty.

Fourth Amendment protections

The use of LPRs has led to privacy concerns from citizens. Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, citizens are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures with limited exceptions. State Senator Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, has publicly questioned the use of LPRs, saying in a press release that "technology is evolving faster than the law," even though "the right to privacy is older than the Bill of Rights."

In California, Sen. Hill and other members of the state Senate sought to curb some of these privacy invasions by introducing SB 893, which would have banned public and private agencies from selling data collected from license plate readers.

The proposed bill would also have kept LPRs off private property. In addition, the bill specified that an officer would need more than just a hit from an LPR in order to obtain a search warrant. The bill also would have allowed police to keep data for only 90 days after collection.

A handful of states have already implemented restrictions on the use of license plate readers. However, the bill proposed in California failed to garner the 21 votes it needed in the Senate in order to pass. It is unclear if other, similar legislation will be introduced in the near future.

Californians should protect their rights

The right to privacy is a time-honored American tradition and fundamental right. Californians who believe that they had their Fourth Amendment rights violated related to a criminal case should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect their constitutional rights in court.