Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department and the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office have both recently added cameras that take pictures of license plates. They help catch car thieves and tax evaders, but now the Americans Civil Liberties Union is asking if they’re capturing too much.
CMPD has four units on police cars and is in the process of installing six license plate readers at intersections as part of a $1 million federal grant. Several cameras throughout the city send their images to these processors. From there it can be flagged for things like stolen vehicles or a vehicle driven by a missing person.
The pictures are then stored on the county server for a year and a half before being automatically deleted. Major Johnny Gennings of CMPD says searches into this server are only for criminal investigations.
“Unless there’s any type of investigative reason for us to come across your vehicle, then you’ll never know. It’s nothing like any other systems that we’ve had where, you know, you’re not going to receive any tickets in the mail or anything like that.”
North Carolina ACLU legal director Chris Brook worries that the information will also be used to keep tabs on the average grocery shopper, church goer, or protester when they haven’t committed a crime.
“Regardless or whether the license plate in question, the individual, has any problems whatsoever legally. So that’s sweeping up for a year and half tons of innocent information.”
The ACLU has asked for information from 61 law enforcement agencies across the state to find out if they’re using the systems and for what purpose.