By Josie Wales
A Rhode Island House committee voted to move forward with expanding the surveillance in the state on Tuesday when it approved H5531, otherwise known as the “Rhode Island Electronic Confirmation and Compliance System Act.” The new legislation, which passed the House Corporations Committee by a vote of seven to two, allows for the statewide use of automated license plate readers (APLR’s) to fine uninsured motorists.
Revenue generated by the dragnet will be split evenly between the state and private camera company and would generate around $15 million annually.
Rep. Robert Jacquard, the bill’s sponsor, says the surveillance system will operate mostly on major highways, targeting uninsured motorists from out of state. Jacquard claims to have addressed the concerns of the bill’s critics by limiting the cost of citation fines to $120, prohibiting cameras from being installed on moving objects, and preventing the system from being used to collect tolls.
Many remain opposed to the measure, however, due to privacy and efficacy concerns. According to the language of the bill:
An automatic license plate recognition system to electronically capture license plate images in two (2) seconds or less and noninvasively attempt verification of the insurance and when possible, the registration status of the interstate vehicle. If the vehicle is covered under an automobile insurance policy or properly registered or there is no conclusive proof of noncompliance as determined by a law enforcement officer, the automatic license plate recognition system shall erase the record of the vehicle’s license plate within one minute.
This means the system will need access to databases in every state in order to verify vehicle registration and insurance status. This poses both constitutional and technical problems, according to Frank O’Brien, vice president of state government relations for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, which testified against the bill this year. “It’s really difficult to see how the information exchange would work,” O’Brien told the Providence Journal. He also said the new system would only complicate a recent law passed by Rhode Island lawmakers intended to catch uninsured motorists. That law is already working well and includes frequent reporting of policy lapses.
The ACLU of Rhode Island also testified against the legislation, highlighting that it benefits the private corporation owning the cameras. They noted that “it is inappropriate for a private company to receive half of the revenues gained from insurance penalties, as it provides an incentive to encourage penalties instead of minimizing their occurrence.”