PORTLAND -- Portland police confirmed Thursday they have 16 patrol cars equipped with automatic license plate readers.
The scanners are capable of capturing 8,000 images a day according to Officer Garrett Dow. Multiply that by 16 patrol cars on the streets and Portland police are recording as many as 128,000 plates a day.
The main purpose for the license plate readers is to capture these stolen cars, said Dow.
The readers compare license plates to a list of wanted plates held in a computer in the truck of the police car. The list is updated electronically with stolen cars or vehicles of interest every hour.
Officer Dow said the system is responsible for finding 30 percent of the stolen cars in Portland. It also helps in finding suspects.
They point to David Wendell as an example. He was wanted on 88 charges of ID theft.
Police say the detective on the case looked for him over four months without success. Then his license plate was entered into the new system and a license plate scanning car found him three days later.
The intent of the system is not to track people. The intent of the system is to solve more crime, Dow said.
The police system now holds more than 3 million images with date, time and location recorded. Add to that concerns about domestic drones and the NSA scooping up phone records and you understand why the American Civil Liberties Union is nervous about the license plate readers.
Its creating unprecedented opportunities for really mass surveillance of people who have done nothing wrong, said Becky Straus from the Oregon ACLU.
Police say strict rules prohibit the scanning cars from driving to mosques or protests to record license plates.
But privacy advocates say they will still have an effect on innocent people.
When Oregonians begin to realize they may be under constant monitoring by these license plate readers, it begins to have a chilling effect on perfectly constitutionally protected activity, said Straus.