The California Senate has rejected a bill to allow drivers to protect their privacy by applying shields to their license plates when parked. The simple amendment to state law would have served as a countermeasure against automated license plate readers (ALPRs) that use plates to mine our location data.
As is the case with many privacy bills, S.B. 712 had received strong bipartisan support since it was first introduced in early 2017. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Joel Anderson, a prominent conservative Republican from Southern California, and received aye votes from Sens. Nancy Skinner and Scott Wiener, both Democrats representing the Bay Area.
Each recognized that ALPR data represents a serious threat to privacy, since ALPR data can reveal where you live, where you work, where you worship, and where you drop your kids at school. Law enforcement exploits this data with insufficient accountability measures. It is also sold by commercial vendors to lenders, insurance companies, and debt collectors.
Just last week, news broke that Immigrations & Customs Enforcement would be exploiting a database of more than 6.5 billion license plate scans collected by a private vendor.
This measure was a simple way to empower people to protect information about where they park their cars, be it an immigration resource center, a reproductive health center, a marijuana dispensary, a place of worship, or a gun show.
Under lobbying from law enforcement interests, senators killed the bill with a 12-18 vote.
Privacy on our roadways is one of the most pressing issues in transit policy. The federal government—including the Drug Enforcement Agency and Immigrations & Customs Enforcement—are ramping up their efforts to use ALPR data, including data procured from private companies. Major vulnerabilities in computer systems are revealing how dangerous it can be for government agencies and private data brokers to store our sensitive personal information.
If the Senate is going to begin 2018 killing a driver privacy measure, it is incumbent on them to spend the rest of the year probing the issue to find a new solution.