Fort Myers Beach Council Approves Automatic License Plate Readers, Cameras | News, Sports, Jobs – FORT MYERS


The Fort Myers Beach City Council has authorized City Manager Roger Hernstadt to contract with Flock Safety for six license plate readers and mobile cameras.

The Fort Myers Beach City Council at its meeting Monday unanimously approved an agreement with Flock Safety to install six automatic license plate readers and cameras on the two bridges serving the city, as well as mobile cameras.

Per a resolution, the agreement also includes monitoring of the city’s sidewalks, common-use paths, roads and streets at a cost of no more than $15,000 per year, plus a $1,500 implementation fee.

A mobile camera could also be set up in Times Square, at the intersection of Estero Boulevard and Old San Carlos Boulevard.

A copy of the agreement was not available on Friday. On Wednesday, City Attorney John Herin Jr. and City Manager Roger Hernstadt said the contract language was yet to be finalized with Flock Safety.

Herin said Friday that Flock Safety had not approved the contract as of Friday afternoon. Herin said the council received a draft treaty ahead of Monday’s vote on the resolution. The Fort Myers Beach Observer has requested a copy of the draft contract. Herin said a draft copy would be provided, although no copy of the draft contract had been provided or published with the agenda or online as of Friday afternoon. The council-approved resolution, which was placed on the agenda for the town meeting, authorizes Hernstadt to contract Flock Safety for the cameras. There is also a summary of the agenda items, which gives background information on the cameras, but no copy of any contract.

Herin said once Herin and Flock Safety agree on the language of the contract and Hernstadt signs the contract, the City Council will not need to re-approve the contract. In December, Hernstadt City Council approved the purchase of the cameras, although no agreement had yet been reached.

The council had limited discussions on approving the cameras at its meeting on Monday. The use of Flock security cameras on Marco Island is the subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, as well as another state lawsuit filed by the group over automatic license plate readers in Coral Gables.

Councilor Jim Atterholt asked City Attorney John Herin Jr. about litigation over such cameras. “There has been some news of some litigation related to these types of systems due to privacy concerns.” explained Atterholt. “I assume you are familiar with this lawsuit. I’m wondering if we can contractually build in language that protects us from litigation when it comes to how we handle this information? Are there things we can do defensively to prevent litigation that might result? Did you think that through somehow?”

Referring to the lawsuit filed against Marco Island last month, Herin said he was aware of that lawsuit. “We are aware of the lawsuit involving a sister church here in Southwest Florida. We believe, based on an analysis of this litigation and our discussions directly with Flock, the service provider at that particular location, that the facts of the situation are a comparison between apples and oranges. It’s not the same,” he said. “But certainly we’re going to take that into account and have those talks and provide that language in the agreement.” said Herin.

The New Civil Liberties Alliance lawsuit alleges that Marco Island uses at least three automatic license plate readers on the only three bridges that allow people to enter and exit Marco Island. The lawsuit also alleges that the city stores and records data from the cameras of every vehicle entering and exiting the city for three years.

In Fort Myers Beach, the cameras would be placed on the only two bridges that allow vehicles to enter or exit the city of Fort Myers Beach — the Big Carlos Pass Bridge and the Matanzas Pass Bridge.

Atterholt asked Herin if he thinks the city is avoiding litigation risk under the current contract language. “So as it stands, do you think we’re doing the best we can to avoid that litigation risk based on what we’ve already seen? Is that fair?”

“Yes.” said Herin.

Contacted after the meeting, Atterholt said he did not see a copy of the contract before his vote Monday and he takes Herin’s word that he will insert language into the contract to protect the city.

Previous statements from Flock Safety indicated that data from the automatic license plate readers would be shared directly with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and stored for 30 days. The system would also notify the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies if a vehicle had a suspended license or registration, was stolen, or was otherwise wanted.

Flock Safety said they share data with a number of state and federal law enforcement agencies.

Atterholt had previously tried to keep the city from storing license plate reader data.

During a sales pitch with City Council last year, Flock Safety’s Todd Troutman called the cameras a “proactive system”.

Troutman said searching for data from the cameras can cover anything from vehicles with a bumper sticker to a roof rack.

“We can make, model and color”, said Troutman. “That’s why Lee County is so excited about this kind of technology, because if an eyewitness calls town … they said it was a black Chevy pickup. You can go in and say, “Show me all the black Chevy trucks that were in this area at the time.” said Troutman. “Everything it happens becomes searchable.”

“You can go in and say, ‘Show me any vehicle that has a bumper sticker.'” said Troutman.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) believes that the 2011 Supreme Court case United States v. Jones and the 2018 Supreme Court case Carpenter v. United States set a precedent that an arrest warrant is required should be so that law enforcement agencies can access certain data captured by the cameras is part of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against invasive searches.

Last week, the ACLU announced it had released a 13-page report raising concerns about Flock Safety and its growing database as they contract more with cities and towns across the country for license plate reader and camera contracts . The ACLU said the company has cameras in hundreds of cities and towns across the country.

Flock Safety sells itself as the fastest growing provider of automatic license plate readers.

The ACLU is concerned that the company is collecting data about Americans’ travel, which is being shared with law enforcement agencies across the country. The ACLU explained that the camera system can also be used to alert authorities immediately if people under investigation or surveillance pass points where the cameras are activated.

Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said the ACLU wants to bring this up “Awareness of the company and its product and the impact on civil liberties.”

Stanley said the city’s contract with Flock Safety covers more than just Fort Myers Beach.

“When you pay for a Flock Safety product, you feed into a nationwide surveillance network that tracks people’s comings and goings, and that has many privacy implications. It’s prone to abuse.” Said Stanley.

According to Stanley, unless a department has built-in, internal privacy policies governing their use, it can be difficult to determine whether privacy abuse is occurring.

Lee County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Anita Iriarte said the department is currently working with Flock Safety on license plate readers and cameras for cameras it has on county poles. Iriarte said the department has a policy regarding the use of data from the cameras “that correlates with state statutes.”

Despite statements from Flock Safety that the data would be shared with other law enforcement agencies, Iriarte said the department does not share the data it collects. “It is for our internal use”, said Iriarte.

Iriarte said data from the cameras will be used “Law enforcement purposes, special investigations, missing persons, or security reasons.”

In 2020, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners authorized the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Cape Coral Police Department, and Fort Myers Police Department to use county poles for automatic license plate readers. Departments can store license plate reader data and search for location history.

“A recording of your location is very invasive”, Said Stanley. According to Stanley, such data can be used to learn private information about individuals, their habits, personal relationships, religious beliefs, medical histories, political beliefs, and other personal information. The ACLU report notes that the New York City Police Department used automatic license plate readers to monitor mosque-goers and vehicles parked near mosques. The NYPD has settled a lawsuit over the use of the cameras after the Associated Press revealed the department had also used whistleblowers in the mosques.

The ACLU report cites a New Hampshire law that prohibits the use of automatic license plate readers for location tracking database collection, but allows the use of such cameras for wanted vehicles such as an Amber Alert or a stolen car. According to the ACLU, 16 states have enacted laws restricting the use of automatic license plate readers.

The City Council last year chose to follow up the cameras rather than spend more than $200,000 annually on additional services provided by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.


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