9 Investigates: Cameras used by police to scan license plates



ORLANDO, Fla. - Police say cameras used to scan license plate are a tool, and they are helping them catch criminals quickly. But some critics don't like the way the information is being stored.

WFTV discovered that police could have a record of your whereabouts, even if you've never done anything wrong.

When you drive down many central Florida streets, you're being watched and your vehicle information stored in a massive database.

Automated license-plate readers capture images of every plate in their line of sight.

The picture is stamped with the date, time and GPS location.

Law enforcement can scan up to 2,000 plates in one shift.

9 Investigates learned that they are storing the information on drivers who've done nothing wrong.

"I think it's a bit much," said one driver.

"It's another way Big Brother is watching us," said driver Terry Sloan.

"What's the reason for storing this information?" WFTV reporter Vanessa Welch asked Vincent Ogburn of the Orlando Police Department.

"For criminal investigations and intelligence reasons. To monitor people and keep track of them," said Ogburn.

The cameras have tracked down stolen cars, wanted criminals, even sex offenders. But the American Civil Liberties Union and many drivers don't like police keeping track of innocent people.

"They shouldn't be tracking us, knowing where we are going, what we are doing," said driver Renaldo Lopez.

"There are hackers out there who can get into anything and everything," said driver Shannon Hurley.

So far this year Orlando police have scanned 38,560 plates. Of those, 557, or 1.4 percent, were connected to criminals.

"I cannot for the life of me fathom why they would be doing this other than the fact they are gathering information to use against people in the future. Why else?" said civil rights attorney Jack Nicols.

Nicols said he believes it violates the 14th amendment

There are no laws to regulate how long police can store the information, or how it's shared.

The Florida Highway Patrol's database includes more than 520,000 scans. Seminole County has more than 450,000 scans. Orlando police have collected more than 470,000.

"Critics say you should not be storing innocent people's information," Welch said to Ogburn.

"Again, I cannot stress how secure the information is," said Ogburn. "We don't see where there is a problem with it."

Neither does Marcy Albright.

"If you have nothing to worry about you should not be concerned," said Albright.

But for Eli Willhide, who said he's on the road 50 weeks a year, it's a privacy issue.

"I don't think they should be allowed to do it all," said Willhide.

The system was not designed to filter out innocent people's information.

At the end of each shift the scanned data is uploaded to a database.

Currently Orlando police store that information indefinitely. They did say they plan to start discarding the data at some point.

Seminole County keeps the information for five years.