Florida Town to Use Surveillance Cameras to Monitor Drivers
One of the nation's wealthiest towns will soon have cameras and computers running background checks on every car and driver that passes through, according to a report in the Associated Press on April 27.
Police Chief Clay Walker, one of 11 officers on the Manalapan police force, said cameras will take infrared photos recording a car's tag number, then software will automatically run the numbers through law enforcement databases. A 911 dispatcher is alerted if the car is stolen or is the subject of a “be on the lookout'' warning. Next to the tag number, police will have a picture of the driver, taken with another set of cameras -- upgraded versions of the standard surveillance cameras already in place.
If there is a robbery, police will be able to comb records to determine who drove through town on a given afternoon or evening. “Courts have ruled that in a public area, you have no expectation of privacy,'' said Walker, one of 11 sworn officers who protects Manalapan's 321 residents. Still, Walker says Manalapan's data will be destroyed every three months.
The 2000 Census listed Manalapan, about 15 miles south of West Palm Beach, among the nation's richest cities. The 321 residents of the Palm Beach County town have been overwhelmingly supportive, particularly after three heists this winter netted $400,000 in jewelry and goods. The town plans to spend about $60,000 on the camera surveillance system. It's expected to go into operation this summer.
The cameras are raising concerns about privacy because they follow the movements of innocent drivers, such as those going to the beach.
The technology “subjects every citizen and visitor to a state police check — without probable cause or even any basis for suspicion,'' said Howard Simon, executive director of Florida's American Civil Liberties Union. He said the cameras are another example of government agencies placing more public spaces under high-tech surveillance without enacting any laws to protect the privacy of law-abiding citizens or to ensure the accuracy of new technology.
Police departments across the country have used cameras to record license plates and nab speeders since the 1980s. But the technology to automatically read license plate images and compare them to a computer database has only become available in the last few years. Courts have overwhelmingly supported surveillance systems on public streets.