License plate readers are everywhere, on top of police cars, mounted at traffic lights, sitting in parking lots, and every day, they collect thousands of plates to add to public and private databases. There’s basically no laws on sharing this information since it’s technically gathered in public places. So really anybody with a check can get at thousands or even millions of license plates and even track a car from place to place if they want to. And now this power has been given to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as the federal agency that’s convinced that the guy selling you scratch tickets is a public menace.
The Verge reports that after years of lobbying, ICE has been able to secure a deal with Vigilant Solutions, a sort of clearinghouse of plate reader data. Since Vigilant is a private company, they can do anything they want with the license plate data they buy, including a “historical search,” which would more or less tell ICE the movement of a license plate over time, including locations it regularly visits, and if that’s not creepy enough, tools to track plates in real time:
ICE agents can also receive instantaneous email alerts whenever a new record of a particular plate is found — a system known internally as a “hot list.” (The same alerts can also be funneled to the Vigilant’s iOS app.) According to the privacy assessment, as many as 2,500 license plates could be uploaded to the hot list in a single batch, although the assessment does not detail how often new batches can be added. With sightings flooding in from police dashcams and stationary readers on bridges and toll booths, it would be hard for anyone on the list to stay unnoticed for long.
This is particularly concerning because 2017 was a year of ICE trying to deport domestic violence survivors who are seeking restraining orders, being denied entry to schools, and attempting to arrest U.S. citizens as undocumented immigrants. Considering this behavior, many are likely asking whether ICE can use these tools responsibly, or whether they should even have access to them at all. It appears we’re going to find out the answers.
(via The Verge)