(WPRI) -- You may want to put the brakes on where you drive, since it's possible that information about you, where you're going, and places you stop is being recorded and saved in secret national databases.
Investigators say it's a valuable tool for finding criminals, and even people who don't pay parking tickets. But privacy advocates warn to proceed with caution.
By simply passing vehicles on a highway, a city street, or in a parking lot, these car-mounted cameras can record up to 3,500 license plates a minute. A computer then saves and tags the plate picture with the date, time, and location it was taken.
Until Mike Katz-Lacabe requested these pictures from his local police department, he had no idea officers had stored 100 plate photos of his family's cars around town over a two-year period. He was surprised to see himself in one photo, and his children in the family's driveway in another.
"Most people don't know that this is happening," said Katz-Lacabe. "I was shocked. It's very powerful information."
So who's out there scanning plates? Private companies, car repossession agents, and according to one report, more than 37 percent of large law enforcement agencies across the country. Some send the information to private companies such as MV TRAC.
"It's perfectly legal, it's not infringing on anyone's rights," said Scott Jackson of MV TRAC.
It is in fact perfectly legal to shoot and store video shot in public. But privacy advocates want these plate storing practices to stop.
"There are no rules that govern it, there's no overall governing structure," said Attorney Mary Ellen Callahan, former Chief Privacy Officer of the Dept. of Homeland Security. "There's no law that would impact how the different municipalities and states would implement this, and therefore the potential for misuse or unintended use is extraordinarily high."
MV TRAC says it keeps its plate data indefinitely, and only police and car repossession companies who have passed an in-depth background check can access its database. Its system alerts a user when a "hot-listed" or "wanted" plate is discovered.
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