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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Bill Sets Limits On Data From License Plate Readers

The Vermont House has approved legislation that sets an 18-month time limit on data collected by police agencies using license plate readers.

The readers are tiny cameras hooked up to computers that scan a vehicle’s registration plate. There is now no limit on how long the information can be stored on police computers.

Rep. Michael McCarthy, D-St. Albans City, said the bill was a compromise. Civil liberties groups had called for a 30-day limit on keeping the information.

“We’re again striking a balance between civil liberties and the needs of law enforcement,” he said. “Part of that protecting civil liberties is to have information about who’s trying to get this data, because the data tells you where a car was, what date it was there. It’s an enormous amount of data that can be collected.”

But Rep. Jim McCullough, D-Williston, said he was troubled by police collecting information on citizens who have not violated any laws.

“And the problem is self-explanatory. As we see these units just observing and recording everyone of us, as we go back and forth to work, every time we go to the corner store or do whatever it is we are doing,” he said. “So this is a troubling thought.”

McCullough proposed a moratorium on the license plate readers. But he withdrew his amendment after he learned that there is not enough time left in the legislative session for the Senate to consider the changes.

McCullough then supported the 18 month time limit. Backers said that without some restriction in the law, law enforcement agencies could keep the license plate data indefinitely.