Sen. Kissel, lawmakers consider oversight of license plate readers

August 21, 2023

Hearst CT Media

Several Connecticut lawmakers are open to the idea of implementing policy that would place more regulations on police using stationary automatic license plate readers as police departments continue to use the devices without outside oversight.

Law enforcement officials say the technology helps them quickly identify vehicles of interest, such as those that are stolen, were involved in a crime, or are connected to Amber Alerts.

However, considering the lack of state laws regulating the devices, police are not required nor willing to tell the public where the readers are placed, but it is known that they are popping up on roads throughout Connecticut.

A total of 93 license plate readers have been purchased by both state and municipal police since the technology launched, state police have said, but there is not a current count of how many units are active throughout the state.
While law enforcement officials say the devices are a way to monitor criminal activity, the technology is raising privacy concerns from civil rights activists, who claim that the technology enables police to track everyday movements of motorists.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, DNorwalk, said that the technology does have legitimate uses for police, such as tracking stolen vehicles or abducted children, but added that there is a lack of oversight.

“As we know, with any kind of policy, there always needs to be parameters so everybody knows what universe they can operate in and what the expectations are,” Duff said. “I would fully expect the legislature next year, and the Judiciary Committee in general, to have a look at policy and potentially crafting some policy around these license plate readers to ensure the public feels confident about what has generally been good for law enforcement.”

Duff said lawmakers should also consider safeguards regarding privacy concerns and what is done with collected data.
While supporting the technology’s ability to help police and noting that Connecticut is one of the safest states in the country, Duff said that the technology could potentially erode public trust.

“Any time Big Brother is out there, there is always going to be a certain level of concern to ensure that an individual is protected, but also that the masses are protected,” Rep. Jeff Currey, D-East Hartford, said. “To ensure that this technology is being used in a responsible manner, a discussion should be had between lawmakers at the local and state level as well as those using the technology.”

Currey, who serves on the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said that lawmakers don’t necessarily have to put language in state law, but could rather issue guidance regarding specifically what license plate readers can be used for and where.

House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said that he has not heard from constituents complaining about the devices in their community, but admits that could be because they are not aware they exist.
With technology constantly evolving, he said that it should be deployed in a fair and transparent way.

“I think at a minimum, you would want police departments to explain why they’ve chosen certain locations or be able to say, ‘look, we picked the main five roads with the most cars traveled,’ so at least there’s a rhyme or reason for why we’re doing it,” Ritter said.

Sen. Jeff Gordon, R-Woodstock, said that there have been some, albeit not detailed, discussions with his colleagues on the Public Safety and Security Committee regarding stationary automatic license plate readers.

“I know I hear from a lot of people in my district about civil liberty concerns” in general, Gordon said. “I think there should be some degree of oversight and consistency in the state as far as if these are going to be used, what are the parameters, the rules, and the process. The public should know that type of information and be aware of it as opposed to being surprised.”

Rep. Tom Delnicki, R-South Windsor, said that he feels legislative committees should take a closer look at regulations, potentially modeling criteria after what works in other states.
If there is no illegal activity found from the devices, he said perhaps there should be more stringent time frames for which the data can be stored.
“I’m very, very pro-law enforcement, but there has to be a balance here,” Delnicki said, adding that while the devices are valuable to police, “there’s no harm whatsoever putting a sign up where they are.”

Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, said that he feels law enforcement doesn’t want to reveal where the devices are placed because it would alert potential criminals and they could avoid roads where license plate readers are located.

However, he did say that there is the potential for abuse when government agencies collect information about private citizens.

As a ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, Kissel said that it is worth introducing a bill to, at least, hold a public hearing to understand more about the technology and hear concerns of residents.

“I would definitely consider raising a bill,” he said. “It’s definitely worthy of investigation.”

There is a large discrepancy in state law regarding the use of stationary license plate readers and speed enforcement cameras designed to minimize deadly car accidents.

Bipartisan votes in both chambers of the General Assembly overcame opposition from a coalition of conservatives, progressives, and civil rights groups who questioned the effectiveness of the technology and argued that its rollout in other states has disproportionately ensnared minority drivers.

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, was among the group of legislators who voted against the proposal.
“Generally speaking, I’ve always been concerned about the constitutional and privacy implications of having these traffic cameras,” he said, adding that he lacks faith in government to protect private information. “I don’t believe that the government is protecting our privacy.”

Gordon said similar regulations put in place for speeding cameras should perhaps apply to license plate readers.

“All of these types of technologies are just popping up everywhere, so it would very much have to be, in my mind, some type of reasonable and responsible oversight of it,” Gordon said.

Kissel noted that there is an automatic ticket process associated with the speeding cameras, not with license plate readers.

Ritter said that while the state can pass sweeping laws, municipal governments also have a say in how any technology is used in their communities.

“I always like to start there because that’s definitely the closest place to it,” Ritter said.