Marco Island faces lawsuit over license plate readers on bridges leading to island
- Now, three people filed a federal lawsuit claiming the city of Marco Island is violating their Fourth Amendment rights by tracking their whereabouts into and out of the city by way of ALPR systems.
- Several Marco Island residents are raising their concerns nearly one year after the city placed automated license plate recognition systems on the island's Jolley and Goodland bridges.
- Shannon Schemel, Stephen Overman and Michael Tschida say the city is engaging in unreasonable searches and seizures.
Several Marco Island residents are raising their concerns nearly one year after the city placed automated license plate recognition systems on the island's Jolley and Goodland bridges.
The readers, also known as ALPRs, were installed by the city in April of last year both entering and exiting the bridges linking to the island.
The city paid more than $60,000 to Vetted Security Solutions for thesystems, records show.
Now, three people filed a federal lawsuit claiming the city of Marco Island is violating their Fourth Amendment rights by tracking their whereabouts into and out of the city by way of ALPR systems.
Shannon Schemel, Stephen Overman and Michael Tschida say the city is engaging in unreasonable searches and seizures.
"The issue here is not about the license plate readers themselves because we know that they're used in many other places, and that it's been decided that it's legal o have these," Schemel said. "The problem with Marco Island's cameras is that they're creating a database."
The camera systems are capable of taking pictures of vehicles' license plates and share them with other law enforcement agencies, storing the information for up to three years.
"Every time we cross the bridge for three years, it's going to be stored and shared," Schemel said. "Our suit does not seek to get rid of the cameras altogether. It seeks to stop the city from collecting and storing all of this information."
The plaintiffs argue that by collecting and storing that data, it "paints a pretty good picture of one's habits."
"That's not the City of Marco Island's business," Schemel said. "That's where the privacy concern comes in."
Schemel said she's less concerned with what the elected officials hear and more concerned with what the general public understands.
"This is not a suit about getting rid of the cameras, but about getting rid of a database with three years of our personal information being in the hands of the city of Marco Island and the many other organizations they're going to share this information with," Schemel said.
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A real civil liberties problem
Attorney Richard Samp with the New Civil Liberties Alliance law firm of Washington D.C., represents Schemel, Overman and Tschida.
The law firm is also suing the city of Coral Gables over its use of license plate readers. That case currently stands in Florida's Third District Court of Appeals.
"That was what made us decide to file a case involving the city of Marco Island," Samp said. "I do think that there's perhaps a difference in the use of them by the city of Marco Island because they have placed them so that everybody who crosses one of the three bridges into or out of Marco Island is recorded."
Samp said that such kind of continual government surveillance "is a real civil liberties problem."
"The biggest problem is that the city of Marco Island has decided to keep all of these records for three years," Samp said. "So in other words, it has continuous surveillance records for all of its visitors over a three-year period, and that is particularly concerning."
Other cities in Southwest Florida using ALPRs include Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Naples.
A chilling effect
Chad Marlow, senior policy counsel for surveillance, privacy and technology at the American Civil Liberties Union, said it looks like the city is trying to track and intimidate people who want to come to the island.
"I think probably its largest purpose is to have a chilling effect on people's right to travel and to move about anonymously in public," Marlow said. "If you have someone who's undocumented, they may not feel comfortable traveling to a job on Marco Island because they're afraid that their car is going to be recorded."
Marlow said that there's a lot that can be revealed simply by tracking one's comings and goings.
"There's much about Marco Island that looks a lot like a gated community; a private gated community," Marlow said. "Only it isn't. It's a public municipality."
The case is set to be heard at the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, in downtown Fort Myers.
Samp and Schemel said they aren't seeking an agreement in damages payment, but call for the city to change the way it uses the data collected by the license plate readers and the length of time the city stores it.
Samp said there's no confirmed date for the hearing yet, which could take place several months down the road. A judge will then assign a date.
Marco Island Police Chief Tracy Frazzano and City Manager Michael McNees did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Tomas Rodriguez is a Breaking/Live News Reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. You can reach Tomas at TRodriguez@gannett.com or 772-333-5501. Follow him on Twitter @TomasFRoBeltran.