Legislation would limit how long Oregon police can keep license plate data

EYE ON YOU: Should police be able to keep license plate data for years?

EYE ON YOU: Should police be able to keep license plate data for years?

By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog

Ever get that feeling somebody’s watching you?

Well, they might be, in a way you never realized. Police across the country use automatic license plate readers that gather data on you and where you go. The intent is to use the surveillance cameras to catch wanted criminals or find stolen cars. But the American Civil Liberties Union and other privacy advocates say it’s a violation of your privacy rights.

The ACLU of Oregon wants the state to consider limiting how long police can keep this data on file. Portland police, for example, keep the information on hand for four years. Other communities just use existing record retention laws.

“Law enforcement should have the tools it needs to protect public safety, but they must also do that in respect of privacy rights,” Becky Straus, legislative director for ACLU of Oregon, told Northwest Watchdog.

Straus will testify Thursday during the Senate’s General Government, Consumer and Small Business Committee meeting. Lawmakers are back in Salem starting Wednesday for legislative days, three days of committee meetings in preparation for the February short session.

Straus said the ACLU is working with the Senate committee as well as state Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D- Portland, in drafting legislation that would restrict how long the records could be retained. A representative with Williamson’s office said she has no comment at this time.

The new legislation would require information on innocent Oregonians to be deleted within a certain period of time and would set statewide guidelines for how police can use these surveillance cameras, according to a summary of the draft legislative concept.

“The fact is every time a license reader captures data from a license plate, it’s capturing many, many more innocent peoples data than people suspected of wrongdoing,” Straus said. The information stored by the cameras includes location data, meaning the government would have knowledge of where Oregonians have traveled.

“The government has no reason to know where we are traveling to worship, with whom we are associated with (and so on),” Straus said.

The draft legislation is still in the works, but Straus said the ACLU has proposed a 10-day retention period for information that is not needed for an ongoing investigation.

Portland police couldn’t be reached for comment.

When reports surfaced last year that police were capturing about 128,000 license plates a day, officers defended the program, saying it has worked to catch several criminals.

Contact Shelby Sebens at Shelby@NorthwestWatchdog.org

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