Cops in Big Sky Country aren’t happy about it, but Montana lawmakers look ready to ban the use of license plate cameras by government agencies to track motorists’ movements. The legislative move comes after a stream of revelations of local, state, and federal tracking and databasing of Americans’ movements by car, without cause or warrant.
A year ago, the Department of Homeland Security killed a solicitation for bids to establish and maintain “a National License Plate Recognition (NLPR) database service” after a chorus of public outrage. The DHS plan may actually have been duplication of effort, since the DEA already has a national license plate scanning system maintained with the cooperation of local police. If passed, the Montana measure couldn’t block such efforts from D.C., but it would prevent agencies within the state from contributing to those schemes.
Approved by the House Judiciary Committee on February 13, HB 344 states “an agency or employee of the state or any subdivision of the state may not use, either directly or indirectly, a license plate scanner on any public highway,” with limited exceptions. Those exceptions include weigh stations for commercial trucks, city planning so long as driver and vehicle anonymity was maintained, parking control, and tracking government vehicles.
Interestingly, in a move clearly aimed at preventing technological end runs by police agencies, the bill defines “license plate scanners” broadly.