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Florida Man Declared War on License Plate Readers

A 35-year-old man from Altamonte Springs, Fla., was arrested after dismantling 22 license plate readers in Seminole County, Fla., ultimately being caught by the same technology he sought to take down.

ALPR License Plate Reader Cameras
Automated license plate reader (ALPR/LPR) cameras scan license plates of cars crossing into Pensacola Beach, Florida
(TNS) — An Altamonte Springs man was arrested after dismantling 22 license plate readers in Seminole County, fingered by the same technology that had aroused his ire.

Eric Fiedler, 35, is charged with 22 counts of property damage, along with theft and burglary counts, by the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office. He was arrested June 1 after deputies noticed missing Flock Safety Falcon License Plate Readers (LPRs), which the sheriff’s office deployed to identify passing cars for surveillance purposes.

A Seminole County detective first noticed two missing cameras in Longwood on May 6, later determining that a total of eight cameras were removed and in some cases submerged in water. A white sedan Fiedler drove nearby on May 5, registered in his wife’s name, was later identified by the plate-reader system.

Just a few days before the cameras began to go missing, Fiedler had given an interview to a local television station regarding his deep discomfort with the artificial intelligence-based ID technology.

“When you realize you’re being tracked every day going to the grocery or church or school, and you didn’t have any say in it, it’s a little concerning to me,” Fiedler told WFTV in the interview. “It would be very simple to take a camera like that and put a radar on it.”

Eight more cameras went offline on May 19. The Seminole County Sheriff’s Office reviewed surveillance footage that — this time — showed a white Honda minivan in the area of the missing readers and a subject on a bicycle near the cameras.

So they set out to catch the thief in the act.

On June 1, detectives requested a county helicopter for aerial tracking of the target vehicle, which was spotted driving to six locations with plate readers nearby. Fiedler allegedly used a bicycle retrieved from his trunk to travel to camera locations and dismantle the readers using a battery-powered drill and a knife. He was arrested at a private residence in Longwood where he attempted to discard one of the readers.

Seminole County commissioners voted to approve the installation of 25 plate readers in March 2023 for a one-year research period, according to WFTV. The cameras are leased from Flock Safety and are estimated to cost $4,300 each to replace. Data from the system is encrypted and accessible only by law enforcement for official purposes.

A similar system was installed by the University of Central Florida in 2019 at all campus entrances and exits to check for stolen vehicles, license or tag expirations/suspensions and individuals with “criminal investigative interest.” The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized plate readers because they capture data on all vehicles that pass them, not just those involved in crimes.

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