November 30, 2023

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Automatic license plate readers
The practice of tracking drivers’ movements through automatic license plate readers, or ALPRs, is the subject of another new law taking effect the first of October. The devices are mounted on police vehicles, road signs or traffic lights.

High-tech cameras to capture the date, time and location that scanned vehicles passed are used in some capacity by about 600 local and state police departments and other state and federal agencies, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Private business, such as repossession companies and vehicle insurance companies, also use the technology that can capture about 1,800 images per minute.

Critics say use of the scanners amounts to warrantless searches. Supporters say the scanners are not intended to infringe on peoples’ privacy.

To date, at least 14 states have enacted rules relating to the use of ALPRs. Among the group, there are six states to place restrictions on government or law enforcement use of the technology. Eight states limit how long data can be kept, and four states specify that data is exempt under public records laws.

The new Montana law limits the use of license plate readers.

Specifically, state personnel are prohibited from using the devices on public roadways. Law enforcement agencies in Big Sky Country will be allowed to use ALPRs for purposes that include identifying stolen vehicles, locating vehicles involved in “major” crimes, locating missing persons, and “case-specific investigative surveillance.”

Law enforcement is prohibited to keep data collected for more than 90 days without a request for extension or warrant.


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