How many license plate readers is Seminole County installing? No one will say

Eric Fiedler watched as a person drove his unmarked van onto the grass alongside Maitland Avenue and took out an extended black pole with a digicam connected to it.

“It just seemed really curious,” Fiedler stated. “It sent me down a rabbit hole.”

Fiedler would later discover out the pole, digicam and accompanying photo voltaic panel was a Flock license plate reader (LPR), which takes an image of each passing automobile and makes use of AI expertise to determine the automobile by its plate quantity, coloration, mannequin, bumper stickers and dents.

The pair that obtained planted on Maitland Avenue that day was one of an unknown variety of LPRs put in throughout the county over the past month, feeding right into a central database accessible to deputies.

Exactly how many cameras have been erected stays a secret exterior the sheriff’s workplace, which received’t disclose the quantity or their places for “intelligence purposes.”

Read: License plate readers: How much personal data does your license plate reveal?

“They are widely used by law enforcement with a goal of locating missing and endangered persons, stolen cars and tags, and felony suspects,” SCSO spokesman Bob Kealing wrote in an emailed response to WFTV’s listing of questions. “The purchase and installation of LPRs are publicly approved by the county commission.”

A county spokesman referred questions concerning the LPRs again to the sheriff’s workplace.

Seminole County commissioners did approve the set up of 25 LPRs throughout its March 28, 2023 assembly in a no-discussion consent vote. The program was meant to final for one 12 months and got here for gratis to taxpayers. It’s not clear if that one-year program is nonetheless underway or if further cameras had been bought after it expired.

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As part of the pitch written into the publicly accessible packet that commissioners reviewed, sheriff’s workplace employees stated the prevailing LPRs the company had – plus these owned by surrounding companies – had been a sport changer for regulation enforcement of their efforts to catch criminals.

The examples included the apprehension of a homicide suspect who killed a Husseini Islamic Center employee in March of 2022 inside three hours of the decision, and the seize of a Volusia County homicide suspect in April of 2021.

The sheriff’s workplace additionally stated they’ve used them to resolve property crimes and lacking individuals circumstances.

Read: Sanford police use new technology to catch criminals

The new cameras have prompted a number of discussions as customers posted pictures of the unfamiliar objects on social media websites. While the LPRs obtained assist from many members of the group, Fiedler and others say the dearth of transparency about their set up and the general nature of this system felt like a step towards “big brother.”

“When you realize you’re being tracked every day going to the grocery or the church or the school, and you didn’t have any say in it. It’s a little concerning to me,” Fiedler stated, whereas acknowledging his telephone tracked his actions and he had no proper to privateness on a public road. “At what point would you just put on a GPS bracelet and say, you can track me everywhere I go, you can see everything I buy?”

Flock, which has previously interviewed with WFTV about its LPR systems, stated all its knowledge is encrypted and deleted after 30 days. Seminole County owns all the information, and solely deputies can entry it for official regulation enforcement functions.

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A spokeswoman stated their programs now assist regulation enforcement remedy 9% of all crimes within the US.

“There’s a call for better policing, more objective policing,” the spokeswoman stated. “[The LPRs] provide that objective evidence.”

County leaders say deputies can solely entry the system with an investigative case quantity, and the system is monitored and audited for abuse. Anyone caught misusing the information would lose entry to it.

LPRs have been in place because the early 2010′s and may now be present in most jurisdictions. Some jurisdictions like Sanford – an early adopter of the technology – have been rather more clear about their set up.

For Fiedler, he stated he worries about what will come subsequent.

“It would be very simple to take a camera like what we have behind us and put on a radar on it,” he defined, rehashing the quantity of knowledge the LPR already captures. “Maybe it could go into your to how insurance approaches your premium… if you have a political sticker that’s supporting one party, theoretically, they could know and it could influence things.”

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