GOP senators split over NC license plate camera bill

Posted by Craig Jarvis on July 17, 2014 

Law enforcement agencies are increasingly using the latest technology to take automated roadside snapshots of license plates in order to catch wanted criminals and other suspected violators.

Turns out the state Department of Transportation doesn’t have the legal authority to allow them to use state-owned right-of-ways. A bill to accomplish that has been slow-poking its way through the legislature since last year. It finally received a full airing on the Senate floor Wednesday.

The bill ran into unexpected opposition over privacy concerns, which led to a split among GOP senators. More Republicans voted against the bill than for it, but thanks to unanimous support from Democrats it was preliminarily approved on a 29-18 vote. Update: A final vote was scheduled for Thursday, but moved to Monday.

House Bill 348 would require state and local law enforcement to adopt specific policies on the use of automated license plate readers, prohibit agencies from keeping the data collected for more than 120 days unless they can show it’s relevant to an ongoing investigation, and prevent it from being used in civil litigation or made public.

Sen. Rick Gunn, a Republican from Burlington, and Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Democrat from Durham, crafted the bill. But that didn’t ensure bipartisan support.

“I hate this bill,” said Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Republican from Hendersvonville. “A machine is going to take a picture of your car, tell if you got insurance or not. I know it’s way past 1984, but it sounds like we’re going back.”

Sen. Thom Goolsby, a Wilmington Republican, said he was concerned about the growth of government surveillance at a time when crime is actually decreasing in North Carolina.

“I’m operating legally on a road I paid for as a citizen, monitored by some nameless, faceless bureaucrat to see where I’m going,” Goolsby said would be the outcome.

But McKissick pointed out that law enforcement surveillance cameras are already all over the state, and this bill would regulate them for the first time.

Sen. Tamara Barringer, a Cary Republican who is also a law professor, said there is a right to privacy but not always a reasonable expectation of that privacy.

“I abhor government intervention, but I will support the bill. I don’t think we have a reasonable expectation of privacy when we’re on a public street,” she said. 

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