RI House approves surveillance system targeting uninsured vehicles

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP/WPRI) — The Rhode Island House of Representatives has passed legislation that would create a highway surveillance system to search for insurance scofflaws and fine them.

The Democratic-controlled House voted 49-17 to pass the bill, with Republicans and some Democrats voting against it. It now moves to the Senate.

The proposed license plate scanning system, which would be run by a private company, has raised concerns from civil liberties groups, police and state agencies.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Rep. Robert Jacquard, says data will be “erased within one minute” if there’s no proof the car is uninsured.

Rhode Island ACLU policy associate Marcela Betancur said the bill does not explain how that will be done.

“”It is not explained as well how it [data] will be stored, how it will be safely shared with other law enforcement officers or third parties,” said Betancur. “It’s very worrisome.”

Betancur said the bill is concerning on several levels.

“We are getting revenue from individuals that don’t have insurance in their home state, that is not Rhode Island, and we are still sharing with a third party organization that is benefiting from giving tickets to individuals that might not even know that these cameras are around,” said Betancur.

Republican Minority Whip Blake Filippi says he’s concerned about “setting up a surveillance system of this magnitude,” citing George Orwell’s book “1984” about oppressive surveillance, saying it should be “a warning, not a guidebook.”

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America is disappointed in the House vote.

The group said in a statement, “The bill raises a lot of troubling issues from the gathering and transfer of massive amounts of information from insurers and others to a private entity, to a lack of legal authority to compel other states to provide vehicle registration information on out-of-state vehicles, to increasing costs for Rhode Island policy holders.

We urge the Senate to oppose this unnecessary legislation that would needlessly threaten privacy and raise auto insurance costs for Rhode Island drivers.”

Rhode Island State Police public information officers declined Eyewitness News’ request for comment on the legislation.