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License-plate-reader businesses file First Amendment suit over new Utah privacy law

Posted Feb 14, 2014 4:15 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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In an unusual First Amendment challenge to a revised state law seeking to protect individual privacy, two companies that offer license-plate readers and data services to private businesses such as automobile finance and repossession companies have sued the state of Utah.

The plaintiffs, Digital Recognition Network Inc. and Vigilant Solutions Inc., say the amended law shuts them down in the state and contend that prohibiting businesses from taking photos in public violates their constitutional rights, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. The technology the companies sell digitizes alphanumeric license plate information, making it possible to scan the information quickly against a database of vehicles.

"The state of Utah cannot claim that photographing a license place violates privacy," said attorney Michael Carvin of Washington, D.C., who represents the plaintiffs, in a written statement. "License plates are public by nature and contain no sensitive or private information. Any citizen of Utah can walk outside and photograph anything they please, including a license plate."

Ars Technica's Law & Disorder blog, as well as the Associated Press, KSL and the Raw Story, have articles about the Thursday lawsuit.

The American Civil Liberties Union says such photographs pose a significant risk to privacy because they allow an individual's movements to be tracked in great detail over time.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "ACLU Asks Law Enforcement Agencies to Explain How Automatic License Plate Reader Data Is Used"

ABAJournal.com: "Kansas City Police Say 7M License Plate Shots Showing Date, Time and Location Are a Public Record"

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