Legislation Would Mean State Government Is Always Watching


Is 1984 coming to Rhode Island? House Bill 5531 will be heard in committee on Tuesday. If passed, this bill would create a massive surveillance net across the Ocean State with near unlimited potential for abuse. A government-sponsored monitoring and computer system will scan and track Rhode Island drivers on the open roads. A previous version of this bill was killed last year, after strong opposition from privacy advocates.

Rep. Jared Nunes, conservative Democrat from District 25 (Coventry, West Warwick) and millennial legislator, spoke out against the surveillance net on twitter, “How many times does this bill need to be introduced before it gets permanently held for further study? Severe overreach of government.”

The “Electronic Confirmation and Compliance System Act” is one more example of the rights of Rhode Islanders being restricted by radical legislation. The bill’s stated purpose is to create an electronic automobile and commercial vehicle liability insurance confirmation and compliance system in Rhode Island. According to the legislation, this system would work by capturing images for up to two seconds, scanning these images for license plates, and checking them against a database. Within one minute, the record of the license plate is then deleted.

Despite the precautions taken in the language of the bill, concerns remain about the collection of metadata through the surveillance net. This information can paint a powerful image of the lives of ordinary people risking basic human privacy. Many Rhode Islanders would find this a severe violation of the community standards of a free and open democratic republic.

According to the 2016 Freedom Index — Live Bill Tracker published by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, last year’s version of this bill would hire a third-party contractor to set up a statewide system for scanning license plates electronically in search of insurance and registration violations. This system would automatically issue citations.

The Center rated this bill a negative three, the worst possible rating.

After big grassroots opposition to last year’s bill, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) and Rep. Robert Jacquard (D, Cranston), the bill’s primary sponsor, listened to their constituents and decided to hold the bill for further study. This action was taken within a few short weeks of the controversial truck toll vote, and there were concerns from the public that the intrusive surveillance devices would be used on toll gantries. New language makes it clear toll gantries will not be involved in the surveillance net. The speaker addressed that the bill did indeed have privacy concerns in his comments last year.

With the recent failure of the UHIP system, confidence in the ability to successfully manage high-tech infrastructure projects is very low in the minds of many Rhode Islanders. Like the dependency portal agenda of the UHIP system, this project could turn into one more government managed boondoggle. Tax dollars in the state budget must be carefully used by Rhode Island state legislators.

The hearing for H5531 is scheduled for the House Committee on Corporations in room 203 in the RI State House on Tuesday, February 28, 2017 at the Rise of the House (around 4:30pm.) This committee is open to the public. Testimony from the Rhode Islanders can have a powerful impact on the process, as legislators will often listen to their constituents on critical issues.

The new bill is currently sponsored by Representatives Jacquard (D-Cranston), Arthur Corvese (D- North Providence), Kenneth Marshall (D- Bristol/Warren), Anastasia Williams (D- Providence), and Daniel McKiernan (D- Providence.)