In what appears to be a nationwide preemptive strike, the American Civil Liberties Union is formally asking cities and states across the country how they plan to use and store data collected by the new automatic license plate readers that are installed by law enforcement. Jacksonville is on that list, as are Miami and Tampa, as part of ACLU’s records requests in Florida, according to a report on First Coast News. The civil rights group is asking for specific details on how the license plate readers will be used to track to movements of people in Duval County, the television station reported. The readers are camera mounted either on patrol cars or alongside roads on telephone poles or overpasses that snap a picture of every license plate the crosses the frame. The photos are usually timestamped and can be sent to a database, where police would theoretically be able to search for matches, or have the system alert them when a certain tag number is spotted and recorded.
The ACLU has concerns about how police agencies across the country would be using the technology to track people. Police say it is one more tool that law enforcement can use to track people wanted in serious Jacksonville crimes and could, for example, get a violent person off the streets before he or she can inflict more damage. The issue, from the perspective of a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney, becomes if the police are using the information to find people already accused of a specific crime or if they are using it to narrow in on people who frequent or live in a particular neighborhood or part of town. In reality, though, if police want to pull someone over, they will. All it takes is one sign of impaired driving – a quick swerve, driving over the speed limit – or a small violation such as a busted taillight or questionable window tint for an officer to make a traffic stop. The question is, if police make an arrest based on what they find after the stop (a Duval County DUI or perhaps drugs in the vehicle), will that traffic stop stand up in court?
The same questions will need to be asked if the use of these automatic license plate readers becomes more prevalent. Chances are, it is unlikely police will put in police reports or other records that a case was initiated based on information from one of these readers. More likely, police will include the images as one piece of a larger pool of evidence, not a cornerstone of a case. Courts, likely federal court and possibly as high as the Supreme Court, will probably be the ones deciding this issue in the future and our Jacksonville Criminal Attorney will be keeping a close eye on the ramifications on Jacksonville criminal cases.