Highway surveillance bill raises privacy concerns

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As it heads to the Rhode Island Senate for debate, a bill approved by House lawmakers Monday night is facing some backlash.

The bill calls for the installation of a system on area highways that would scan license plates in an effort to catch out-of-state drivers who don’t have insurance.

Offenders would face a fine of up to $120. Half of that money would go to the state of Rhode Island, while the other half would go to a third-party organization in charge of the cameras.

Marcela Betancur, a policy associate at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), says the bill is concerning on many levels.

“It’s very worrisome,” she said. “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.”

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Robert Jacquard, D-Cranston, who says all data collected will be erased within one minute, after it’s been reviewed by a law enforcement officer. Although, questions still remain about how that would be done.

“It is not explained as well how it will be stored, how it will be safely shared with other law enforcement officers or third parties,” Betancur said.

The bill states that all costs will be covered by the unnamed third party.

Property Casualty Insurers, a large national insurance group, sent a letter to Jacquard expressing its opposition to the legislation, saying it threatens privacy and would ultimately raise insurance costs for in-state drivers.

PCI also called on state Senators to oppose the legislation.

House Minority Whip Blake Filippi on Monday cited George Orwell’s “1984” when talking about the bill, saying the dystopian novel should be treated as “a warning, not a guidebook.”

Rhode Island State Police declined to comment on the bill.

If the bill is approved by the Senate, it will move to Gov. Gina Raimondo’s desk for her signature or veto.