Ever wonder what those little camera devices are that you often see on top of red lights at intersections throughout Southwest Florida? Well, there's a pretty good chance they're snapping a quick pic of your car's license plate – whether you've done anything wrong or not.
Recent data compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union through nearly 600 Freedom of Information Requests in 38 states found that police are scanning and storing millions of license plate photos that have no relation to any suspected violation of any laws, or involvement in criminal activity. The cameras are also use in law enforcement vehicles, usually mounted on the car's trunk or roof.
Lee County has 2 of the tag scanners in use now, and county officials just received approval to order 4 more. Collier County has “multiple vehicles” equipped with the new high-tech devices, and Charlotte County has 2 in operation.
The intent is to add another tool to the cops' arsenal used to catch criminals in the act, curb reckless and distracted driving and increase officer productivity. They also help in identifying stolen vehicles, tracking down someone with outstanding warrants and locating vehicles that may be the subject of an amber alert.
But not everyone is happy with the relativity new technology, or at least with what those who use them are doing with the images.
In the 26,000 pages of documents collected by the ACLU, the human rights organization found that the majority of police agencies uncover only a very small number of the images taken by the cameras that are ever successfully connected to a stolen car, or ever result in helping locate a missing person.
This is where the ACLU and other rights organizations have a fundamental problem with the scanners, and the electronic records they generate. They point out that their research showed very little control or supervision over the collected data, which the ACLU describe as “location tracking information of millions of innocent Americans”, in most cases without the knowledge or consent of the citizens.
Part of the problem, according to attorneys with the ACLU, is that the information is stored for millions of images with little or no oversight as to who accesses the data generated, or no policies as to how long the data is kept on file.
The ACLU is currently recommending several procedures be initiated by law enforcement agencies nationwide that use the scanners, and the data they generate:
Barring any legitimate purpose to keep the records, they should be deleted within a matter of days or weeks, at the maximum.
Police cannot examine the data generated without a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed.
Any citizen should be able to research whether their car's location history is contained in a law enforcement database.
So it seems that while there are cases in which information gathered by the license plate scanners is used to catch a criminal, there are many people who feel it comes at the expense of our personal freedoms.
The bottom line is you never know where or when someone is snapping a pic of your tag – so if you don't want to give up access to some of your personal information and a record of your whereabouts, be careful out there.
Our law firm represents people who have been injured in an accident as the result of someone else's carelessness or negligence. If this has happened to you, give us a call at 239-461-5508. It won't cost a thing to sit down with one of our experienced attorneys to let us help you discover whether you may have a legal case to recover financial compensation for your injuries, pain and suffering and lost wages from being left unable to work.