In 2012, Vigilant partnered with its law enforcement partners in California to defeat a Bill attempting to severely limit the use of license plate recognition (LPR) technology and the retention of historical data from license plate reader systems. The message came through loud and clear that a Bill limiting the use of license plate readers and LPR data would result in lives lost and officers being put in harm’s way.

Similar Bills are being sponsored across the country (Arkansas, Vermont, Minnesota, South Carolina, and others) that would prohibit Vigilant from harvesting commercial LPR data and sharing to law enforcement, and/or would limit the retention of historical LPR data down to as little as 7 days. Why? Because certain private interest groups are claiming that LPR data collection is an invasion of privacy. These interest groups are rallying lawmakers to impose retention policies that would significantly reduce the investigative value of license plate recognition and also hinder your abilities to solve crimes.

Vigilant understands these concerns and has implemented safeguards against improper use of LPR data, limiting access only to credentialed law enforcement and also incorporating full agency audit controls, input of case numbers and other information to define permissible use. That said, Vigilant supports the responsible and managed use of LPR, but adamantly opposes efforts to restrict its use. Restricting LPR use and availability will ultimately result in lives lost and the needless endangerment of officers. On the topic of privacy, Vigilant stands behind these tenets, all based in fact:

  • LPR does nothing more than what law enforcement has been doing since the advent of the license plate. In days prior to the technology, an officer would write down a license plate or call a plate in by radio. LPR effectively does the same thing BUT 1) it does not discriminate or profile, 2) it allows the officer to focus on driving, and 3) it increases an officer’s efficiency at this task by more than 8X.
  • The license plate is the property of the state, and the ability to drive is not a right, but a privilege. It is mandated by law in every state that the license plate must be clearly visible on the exterior of the car. Further, it is well established in the Courts that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy for drivers travelling on an open roadway and that LPR does not constitute an unlawful search. (U.S. vs Wilcox, 2011; Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 1967; United States v. Knotts, 460 U.S. 276 at 281, 1983;).
  • LPR data in itself contains no personally identifiable information (PII) and cannot be linked to an individual without an investigator (with permissible purpose) taking an additional step to build this link.

So, what is the right answer for license plate recognition data retention? The short answer – there is not one.

Data retention periods vary all over the world from instant deletion to indefinite retention. A rough average would probably be in the ballpark of 12-18 months, however this is only due to pressures on the above issues as most agencies would like to see retention periods much longer. There is a movement within several stakeholder groups to call for a written recommendation of 5-7 years for Part 1, or Major Crimes Investigations. With statutes of limitations for these major crimes ranging in the years, it would simply be irresponsible to delete data (or legislate the deletion of data) that may otherwise help to locate a violent criminal, terrorist, or serial offender…or rescue an abducted child.