Gig Harbor Police Chief Kelly Busey says state law should be changed so that law enforcement investigators can get information from the toll system about people crossing the eastbound Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
“If there is a homicide, and we think the suspect went through the toll bridge at 5:21 a.m., we can’t get that information,” Busey said in a recent interview. “That’s ridiculous.”
Because of privacy concerns, current law states that “no photograph, digital photograph, microphotograph, videotape, other recording image, or other record identifying a specific instance of travel may be used for any purpose other than toll collection or enforcement of civil penalties.”
Even an officer with a search warrant cannot get information, Busey noted.
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He said the law needs to be softened because information the toll bridge possesses could be extremely useful for the department during instances such as homicides, amber alerts and silver alerts.
Busey said the city will address the topic on its legislative agenda for 2019, aiming to have the law modified to accommodate for major crimes.
Lawmakers have tried to change the law in the past, but with no success.
In 2013, House Bill 1047 called for “permitting use of images taken by traffic and toll cameras for investigation and prosecution of crimes pursuant to a lawfully issued search warrant.”
The amendment was not adopted.
The toll system obtains a photo of the license plates of all vehicles traveling eastbound on the bridge, as well as the time of which they crossed.
The bridge cameras were installed only for tolling purposes, and the law limiting use of the photos and other information was enacted to protect all citizens’ privacy, said Shanktar Narayan, the Technology and Liberty Project director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.
ACLU believes this law is put in place for a reason, as the cameras were put into place for tolling purposes, but are open to debating on modifying this law for police officers for bigger crimes.
The Legislature has been leery of changing the law, because that could affect the limits of how tolling information can be used, Narayan said.
“Drivers should have the assurance that the data collected from them should be for the purpose for tolling, and not for any other purposes,” Narayan said.
Busey said he agrees with the right to privacy and does not want to abolish it.
“We are not trying to tear down anyone’s real privacy interest,” he said. “What we care about is major crimes. If the information is there and available and someone is engaging in criminal activity, it does not make sense that we can’t have access to that information.”
Narayan said the idea of changing the law should be further explored.
“If we want to have the debate for general crime-fighting purposes, we should have that debate,” Narayan said.