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Thursday, July 18, 2013

N.H. is only state that outlaws automatic license-plate readers (for now, at least)

Did you know that New Hampshire is the only state that outlaws the use of automatic license-plate readers? I didn't either, until the national ACLU released a study (read it here) about police departments' use and/or misuse of this technology nationwide. It mentions NH's status in passing.

Turns outm, New Hampshire law outlaws all general highway survillance unless it's for a specific investigation - in other words, authorities can't just set up cameras recording all passing licenses plates and check them against "hot lists", as is common practice elsewhere. The privacy concern arises when they hold onto this information, which can provide surprisiginly detailed information about people's movements. Here's the N.H. law.

But as I learned this morning - while preparing for a story that, darn it, the Union-Leader beat me to - our unique status may not last; a bill was proposed and tabled this year which would change that.

Here's the bill, which would allow "the use of automated number plate scanning devices, also known as automated license plate readers (LPRs) is restricted to local, county, and state law enforcement officers" with various restrictions, including "An LPR shall be installed for the sole purpose of recording and checking license plates and shall not be capable of photographing or recording or producing images of the occupants of a motor vehicle."

That bill may come up again in the fall. It will probably get a lot more attention, next time around.