Connecticut Senators Consider Study of License Plate ID Chips

Connecticut senators scheduled to vote on a study into the use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) for vehicles will consider the financial benefits of a wireless ID system able to detect lapses in car insurance and registration and if such a system would infringe on privacy.

A unanimous Senate vote from the Transportation Committee in March advanced SB 288, which is scheduled for further action on April 9. The bill would authorize the state Department of Motor Vehicles to conduct an RFID study costing $300,000-$500,000 and report back to lawmakers by January 2013.

RFID systems employ chip-sized tags on license plates to transmit data to wireless readers and, if used for motor vehicle identification, could provide instant information to authorities about a car’s registration and insurance.

Knowing that authorities could so easily detect lapses in coverage could in theory motivate uninsured motorists to run an auto insurance quote comparison and get covered before being hit with fines and other penalties.

The Insurance Research Council estimated that, nationally, about 13.8 percent of motorists were uninsured in 2009, but Connecticut’s 9.5 percent rate of uninsured motorists puts it much lower than the national average.

The state would collect “considerable income” of almost $30 million a year from an RFID system, according to testimony on the bill from Paul Scully-Power, a former astronaut and current lobbyist backing the proposal.

Other Conn. ID Legislation Highlights Privacy Concerns

Connecticut lawmakers are also considering HB 5391, which was submitted to establish an insurance- and registration-identification system using mounted high-speed cameras to scan license plates. The legislation has an April 7 slate on the House calendar but is not marked for action yet. A 15-4 vote in late March sent the legislation out of the Committee on Insurance and Real Estate.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has publicly opposed such surveillance systems, which they say were used by police departments in Connecticut to collect information about millions of vehicles, the bulk of which ACLU lawyers say are driven by innocent motorists who are stored indefinitely in a database.

ACLU staffers in Connecticut reported that they obtained 3.1 million scans by 10 police departments under a Freedom of Information Act request and were able to map the movements of their own cars.

“When the data is archived, the potential for the invasion of personal privacy is very disturbing,” David McGuire, staff attorney for the ACLU of Connecticut, said in a statement. “And as more police departments adopt the technology and store the data, the threat grows.”

The ACLU is supporting an amendment to HB 5391 that would require agencies to erase information not used in active investigations after 14 days.

“Dumping the data is a simple way to keep a legitimate law-enforcement tool from creating an unintended and frightening invasion of personal privacy,” McGuire stated. “We can prevent the kind of retroactive surveillance that would reconstruct an individual’s movements or scan a particular church, mosque, adult bookstore or motel just to see who dropped by.”

Driver Data, Scanners Already Considered in Other States

In his testimony opposing HB 5391, McGuire stated that scanning systems are a “prime example of how technology is getting ahead of our law,” but several states in the U.S. are taking measures to catch up.

Maine enacted a law in 2010 that sets a three-week limit on storage of data from mounted scanners while New Hampshire has an outright ban on using the devices.

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for Patch.com and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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