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New Montana Law Limits Use of Automatic License Plate Readers

And restricts how long data can be held.

Ted's photos - Off & OnTed's photos - Off & OnNot all the new laws that went into effect Sunday around the country are bad.

Montana will now significantly restrict the way police in the state are allowed to use automatic license plate readers (ALPRs). The new law limits police use to vehicles that are "stolen, associated with a wanted, missing, or endangered person, registered to a person against whom there is an outstanding warrant, in violation of commercial trucking requirements, involved in case-specific criminal investigative surveillance, involved in a homicide, shooting, or other major crime or incident; or in the vicinity of a recent crime and may be connected to that crime."

There is one major exception—law enforcement agencies are allowed to use ALPRs to monitor their own vehicles and employees.

The Legislature also saw fit to limit to 90 days, unless there is a warrant, the time data collected through the ALPR can be stored. Departments must hold on indefinitely to records of who accessed data from the ALPR.

These limitations have the benefit of thwarting federal license plate tracking efforts, since federal agencies largely rely on data collected by local systems. "No data means no federal license plate tracking program," Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.

Police departments are also required to develop written policies on ALPRs before using them, and will also have to audit the systems annually.

The law specifies a "positive match by a license plate reader alone does not constitute reasonable suspicion as grounds for a law enforcement officer to stop a vehicle."

The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Daniel Zolnikov(R-HD45) and passed 86-12 in the state house and 91-7 in the state senate before being signed by Gov. Steve Bullock (D).

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  • Hugh Akston||

    So does this mean that cops will only be able to scan plates of criminal cars, or that they will still scan every plate but only check them against a whitelist of known suspects/offenders?

  • DaveSs||

    It will scan every plate. Won't function any other way.

    So the question then is, will it save data on plates that don't have a hit on an allowed exception (stolen, warrant for the owner, etc)

    Looking at the text of the bill, its not clear to me that it only allows saving of hits on the exceptions.

  • Tony||

    I'm curious as to why there was some confusion about whether cops needed probable cause before pulling someone over.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Today of all days who would take from police valuable tools?

  • Hugh Akston||

    I want to publicly thank our selfless first responders who bravely sit by the side of the road and pull people over for nonviolent bench warrants.

  • Over40VictimOfFate||

    Both government and private sector companies are building licence plate scanning databases of where vehicles have been and when. In the not too far off future anybody will be able to buy this information ... just as today anybody can pay to find out who a vehicle belongs to and where the owner lives based solely upon the license plate number.

    Ideally we would get rid of license plates altogether. If a police officer needs to know who you are, where you live, and if you've paid your annual tax on your vehicle they can check your annual registration paperwork when they stop you ... provided thy have cause to stop you in the first place. Otherwise it's not their business. As for those who are concerned about locating stolen vehicles .... well, we could have optional license plates. A vehicle owner should be able to choose whether they want to put these personally identifying placards on their vehicle or not. The argument that license plates help police catch criminals doesn't hold water either. Hey, if we were all required by law to wear a scannable personally identifying placard on our outer clothing when out in public that would help police catch criminals too. But we don't do that.

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