9 Investigates: Homeland Security wants to use license plate scanners



ORLANDO, Fla. - 9 Investigates first revealed how local police are using license plate readers to gather information about drivers.

And now Homeland Security wants to create a nationwide database with every American's license plate number.

Channel 9's Vanessa Welch asked what these changes mean for law-abiding drivers on our roads and their privacy.

Welch first raised the question in 2012 when she explained how cameras on police cars can scan up to 2,000 plates during a single shift.

The license plate readers alert police if the driver is a wanted criminal or driving a stolen car. The database used locally only contains information on Florida drivers.

But the U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants a nationwide database to search for suspects and undocumented immigrants.

Justin Davis thinks this would be an invasion of privacy. 

“It’s becoming too much,” said Davis, a local motorist. “We are becoming inundated with all this technology.”    

Homeland Security wants to be able to snap a picture of a license plate with a smart phone and then immediately determine if the tag number is on a vehicle watch list.

DHS officials maintain it will only be used for ongoing criminal investigations.

“I do not believe that,” Davis said. “That could be used to pull somebody over or harass them.”

In 2012, 9 Investigates revealed that Orlando police had scanned more than 38,000 plates, but only 557 or 1.4 percent were connected to criminals.

The new database would allow Homeland Security to track vehicles as they move around the country.

Cindy Putnam is all for the federal database.      

“If it actually does keep us safe, I say go for it,” said Putnam, another motorist asked about the database 

But privacy advocates warn that a federal database collecting license plate information could be a slippery slope.

“People who trust the government might say, ‘What matters, I have nothing to hide,’” said Jim Harper with the Cato Institute. “People who don't trust the government might worry because they worry about a future where the government isn't as friendly as it is today.”