The Orlando Police Department could soon have access to a massive database of license plate numbers of cars collected by privately owned cameras across the country.
City council members on Monday approved a request by OPD to purchase access to a commercial database operated by Vigilant Solutions, a company that sells license plate reader hardware, such as mobile and mounted cameras.
The deal will allow Orlando police to search for wanted vehicles using a network of cameras linked to the company. On its website, Vigilant Solutions boasts more than 5 billion plate detections nationwide by cameras in its network of private subscribers and says millions more are added monthly.
The price of the database is $49,000 a year, which will come out of the Police Department’s budget.
OPD Chief Orlando Rolón said the database will help law enforcement more efficiently locate vehicles associated with crimes or missing people, and pose little privacy risk since license plate numbers aren’t protected information.
“Personally, I believe that any tool in the wrong hands is obviously an issue, even for me personally, privacy is very important,” Rolón said. “What we need when it comes to this type of technology is that missing child, that potential murderer, that potential terrorist that may be found or identified through this type of technology.”
It’s unclear whether other agencies in Central Florida use the database. A spokeswoman for Vigilant Solutions said the company does not comment on contracts with agencies or companies that have access to its products.
Rolón said the alert OPD would receive from Vigilant Solutions when a wanted vehicle passes by one of its cameras would include a photograph of the car, which police must confirm has the same license plate as the one on their hot list before investigating it.
License plate readers have piqued concern among civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, which argue that the cameras pose privacy threats because they collect and store data from every car that passes them, not just those involved in crimes. Cameras owned by private companies pose an added risk of having loose oversight — or none at all, according to the ACLU.