Seattle City Council approves amended bill to expand license plate readers

Measure passed after amendments to address privacy concerns.

Published: June 19, 2024 8:55pm

(The Center Square) -

The Seattle City Council has approved a bill to expand the Seattle Police Department’s use of license plate reading technology with amendments addressing privacy concerns.

Council Bill 120778 expands the use of Automated License Plate Reader, or ALPR, technology to 360 SPD vehicles, including six patrol boats and roughly 270 marked patrol cars.

ALPR technology combines software and hardware used for capturing and monitoring images of license plates. The software deciphers a plate number and compares that number to a list of license plates associated with open, reported crimes and missing persons.

Expanding the technology to a fleet-wide deployment is estimated to cost $280,000 per year beginning this year if the bill is passed.

Throughout the bill’s time in committee, Seattle City Councilmember Cathy Moore voiced her concerns over privacy rights in regards to data collected by the ALPR technology. Moore specifically pointed out that collected data could be given to out-of-state jurisdictions regarding people coming into Seattle for access to abortion and gender affirming care.

Moore mentioned data presented by the American Civil Liberties Union that revealed that in 2023, 71 California policy agencies in 22 counties were sharing ALPR data with police in anti-abortion states, despite such sharing being in violation of California law.

SPD Chief Operating Officer Brian Maxey affirmed that the department would not do that with its own collected ALPR data.

Moore attempted to motion a delay on the vote for the bill to next month, but was rejected by the rest of the city council. However, the city council approved amendments that address privacy concerns.

One approved amendment, proposed by Moore,​​ requires the third-party vendor to immediately notify SPD if it receives a warrant or subpoena seeking ALPR data for any purpose, including purposes related to reproductive healthcare or gender affirming medical services.

“I am very pleased with the amendments that were passed relating to protection of privacy rights through public disclosure requests – it’s not an ideal bill, but it is a very important tool and I feel comfortable with the safety pieces we have added,” Moore said in the committee meeting.

Council Bill 120778 was ultimately passed unanimously by the Seattle City Council, including Moore and now heads to Mayor Bruce Harrell for his signature.

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