New Civil Liberties Alliance warns Marco Island about use of fixed license plate readers
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New Civil Liberties Alliance, the civil rights organization and law firm suing the city of Coral Gables over its use of license plate readers, has taken aim at the city of Marco Island over its plans to put readers on the S.S. Jolley and Goodland bridges.
In a letter sent to the City Council, Police Chief Tracy Frazzano and City Attorney Alan Gabriel on Wednesday, the organization urged the city to reconsider putting in license plate readers and stated a lawsuit could be forthcoming if its position didn't change.
"NCLA urges the Marco Island City Council to take immediate action and cease the City’s unlawful implementation of its proposed fixed ALPR system," the letter states. "Because the City has not yet implemented the ALPR system nor has it spent the thousands of dollars an ALPR system will cost, it still has the opportunity to reconsider and demonstrate its commitment to respecting the fundamental rights of its citizens.
If Marco Island does not reconsider, however, its conduct could well invite a meritorious lawsuit from a member of the community."
Four of the seven council members had given their blessing during a recent budget meeting for the police department to purchase three readers at an initial cost of $59,250 with $27,207 in maintenance costs over the next five years.
Frazzano told the City Council that the department intended to put two readers on the Jolley Bridge to capture northbound and southbound traffic and one reader on the Goodland bridge.
The city has one mobile license plate reader affixed to a vehicle. Since 2015, the reader has logged more than 10,000 hits with most coming for license or registration problems.
The readers can also flag wanted vehicles or suspects, vehicles tied to Amber or Silver alerts and people who have committed sex crimes against children. Frazzano had said one of the people its mobile reader flagged was also on a terrorist watchlist.
The concerns outlined in the letter echoed the comments of Vice-Chair Jared Grifoni, who cast one of the dissenting votes along with Councilors Larry Honig and Victor Rios.
Grifoni had brought up the constitutional issues, specifically the concerns about violating the Fourth Amendment and even referenced the Coral Gables lawsuit during the budget workshop discussion.
He declined to comment on NCLA's letter.
The Coral Gables lawsuit is still ongoing with it reaching the discovery phase.
NCLA contends that the fixed license plate readers would violate the Fourth Amendment and protections against "unwarranted searches and seizures."
"The Supreme Court has recognized that the use of technology to monitor a vehicle’s movements on public streets over time constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment because it infringes upon an individual’s 'expectation of privacy,'" the letter stated. "The Supreme Court has held that 'society’s expectation has been that law enforcement agents and others would not—and indeed, in the main, simply could not—secretly monitor and catalog every single movement of an individual’s car for a very long period.'”
The organization has also raised concern about the amount of data being collected and the access to it.
While it was difficult to estimate how many photographs the proposed Marco Island readers could take, the Coral Gables cameras were found to have saved more than 101 million images of license plates.
Under the proposed Marco Island system, its data would be stored in the cloud for three years and be part of a system shared by 50 other agencies.
By placing cameras at the two exit and entry points on the island, the organization said it would give police a time-stamped list of who has been on Marco Island.
"The question is thus not whether individuals reasonably expect that their vehicles will be viewed in public, but whether they reasonably expect that their movements will be recorded and aggregated in such a manner that the government is able to comprehensively ascertain all dates and times that they entered and exited Marco Island," the letter stated.
NCLA's letter does not appear to have deterred the police department based on a statement it issued Wednesday afternoon.
"We respect the New Civil Liberties Alliance’s opinion," Frazzano said. "However, we are not unique in our desire to use a proactive tool that creates a safer environment for our Marco Island Community."
Connect with reporter Devan Patel: @DevanJPatel (Twitter) or email@example.com