Immigration Control and Enforcement (aka ICE) has contracted with Vigilant Solutions, a private for-profit business that handles license plate reading and facial recognition data. License plate readers gather images of vehicles and identify the individual license plate number, and record the time and place the image was taken. This data having been harvested and stored by Vigilant Solutions outside public accountability gives ICE access to billions of license plate records and the ability for real-time location tracking.
According to Verge.com: Vigilant Solutions has amassed a database of more than 2 billion license plate photos by ingesting data from partners like vehicle repossession agencies and other private groups. Vigilant also partners with local law enforcement agencies, often collecting even more data from camera-equipped police cars.
[They offer free access to their analytics services and no-charge data migration to eligible law enforcement agencies and so called “fusion centers”– such as the one we have in Williston, Vermont.]
The result is a massive vehicle-tracking network generating as many as 100 million sightings per month, each tagged with a date, time, and GPS coordinates of the sighting.
Just another powerful surveillance tool in its expanding tool box but ICE, the Trump administration’s aggressive immigration enforcement arm must be thrilled at the acquisition.
Make no mistake: if you want to control people and enforce immigration law (regardless of constitutionality), or even raid an immigrant sanctuary city – this is just the tool to strike fear into targeted people and their allies. ICE agents would be able to query that database in two ways. A historical search would turn up every place a given license plate has been spotted in the last five years, a detailed record of the target’s movements. That data could be used to find a given subject’s residence or even identify associates if a given car is regularly spotted in a specific parking lot. verge.com [added emphasis]
The ACLU maintains LPR data can have some legitimate uses but worries about privacy implications as gathering and use of the data has become widespread. Jay Stanley, who studies license plate readers with the ACLU: “Are we as a society, out of our desire to find those people, willing to let our government create an infrastructure that will track all of us?”
And here in Vermont what happens to the data police collect from their license plate readers – the dozens supplied through various DHS and federal law enforcement grants?
The Vermont legislature imposed some restrictions of the length of time police can store data they collect. LPR data can be retained for 18 month with 90 day extensions allowed and available by request through Superior Court.
In 2016 VPR reported: Police collected 8.66 million snapshots of license plates across Vermont in the 18 months leading up to Dec. 31, 2015. Each entry includes the time and location where each license plate was spotted by an Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) system.
[…] Police keep a trove of the millions of license plate scans under tight control at the Vermont Intelligence Center in Waterbury. Law enforcement officers aren’t allowed to access the state’s central database directly, but must request information using a form that is reviewed by VIC staff, who can search the data if they deem the query to be legitimate. There’s no information about how officers use the data they get through the database’s search results and no information about the number of cases – if any – the information was relevant to.
Trump’s enforcer at ICE, Director Tom Homan, last year offered this blunt advice to undocumented immigrants: “You should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried.” At some point we all better start to worry and look over our own shoulders. Rule # 1: believe what authoritarians say. Rule # 1a: buy stock in jackboot suppliers.