Seattle Council Votes to Expand License Plate Readers

( – The Seattle City Council last week approved a measure to expand the use of the Seattle Police Department’s license plate reader technology after including amendments to the bill that addressed the privacy concerns of opponents.

The measure, Council Bill 120778, would expand the police department’s ALPR technology (Automated License Plate Reader) to 360 police vehicles, including 270 patrol cars and six patrol boats.

ALPR technology captures images of license plates and compares the plate numbers to a list of license plates linked to missing persons or open criminal investigations.

The bill was strenuously opposed by City Council Member Cathy Moore, who voiced concern over the possible privacy violations of the technology. Moore noted that the plate numbers collected could be shared with law enforcement outside of Washington state to track those who travel to Seattle to obtain an abortion or transgender medical treatments.

In debating the bill, Moore cited data from the American Civil Liberties Union which found that in 2023, 71 police agencies in 22 California counties shared ALPR data with law enforcement in states where abortion is restricted, even though sharing the data is a violation of California law.

Seattle Police Department Chief Operating Officer Brian Maxey insisted that the ALPR data collected by the department would not be shared with other law enforcement outside of the jurisdiction.

Moore sought to delay a vote on the measure until July but her motion was rejected by the rest of the council. Instead, the city council approved amendments to the bill that would address Moore’s concerns, including one proposed by Moore that requires the third-party vendor to notify the Seattle Police immediately if it receives a subpoena or warrant for ALPR data.

Moore, who ultimately voted for the bill, said while the measure was not ideal, she was pleased that it included amendments to protect privacy rights.

The bill passed in a unanimous vote and is expected to be signed by Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell.

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