Ky. Supreme Court: Police license plate readers are not a violation of privacy
A police officer’s use of an automatic license plate reader to stop and arrest a Kentucky man was not a violation of the man’s right to privacy, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – A police officer’s use of an automatic license plate reader to stop and arrest a Kentucky man was not a violation of the man’s right to privacy, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The 2012 case of Burlington resident Gregory Traft was the first in Kentucky to provide court guidance on what has become a nationwide issue regarding whether the cameras are a violation of the right to privacy.
Law enforcement uses the high-tech cameras, which can capture photos of hundreds of licenses plates per minute, to quickly locate people and solve crimes. But the massive collection of data, and how long police can keep it, has raised concerns about the tracking of people who may have done nothing wrong.
In Traft’s case, Boone County Deputy Sheriff Adam Schepsis was driving in the opposite direction of Traft when his license plate reader indicated the owner of the vehicle Traft was driving had a warrant for his arrest, according to the ruling.
After he was pulled over, Traft was given a sobriety test, failed a Breathalyzer and was charged with driving under the influence. But while he admitted he had been drinking, Traft and his attorney argued in court the traffic stop was unlawful and he had committed no traffic violations. In addition, the deputy violated his right to privacy when he looked up his license plate for no reason to conduct an “arbitrary” search of his “personal information," according to court records.
The plate readers, Traft and his attorney argued, are similar to wire taps and “a law abiding motorist has the right to be left alone.”
However, the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Traft “had no reasonable expectation of privacy” as his license plate is publicly displayed on a public street.
In addition, the deputy had a reason to pull Traft over, according to the ruling, as the plate reader showed Traft had a bench warrant out for his arrest – which is an order from the court.
“In our view, the use of the license place reader is no different than had Schepsis used his police radio to ask a dispatcher to run Traft’s license plate number in the database,” the justices ruled. “The same information would have resulted. The mere use of the technology employed here makes no difference in the outcome.”
Traft’s attorney, Steve Megerle, could not immediately be reached for comment.
While the ruling makes clear police can use the readers to make a traffic stop, it does not address one of the larger concerns across the nation - how long police can keep the data from license plate readers. This was not an issue in Traft’s case.
A 2013 article by The Courier-Journal said both the Louisville Metro Police Department and Kentucky State Police use license plate readers. Cameras are mounted on the vehicles and an onboard computer reads the licenses and checks them with national crime data.
At the time, according to The Courier-Journal, both departments said the license plate numbers remain in the system until the software runs out of space.
Some states have policies on how long police can keep the data while others, like New Hampshire, prohibit the use of the readers.
Kentucky does not have a law on how long departments can keep the data.
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