ICE clinches contract with private firm to gain access to billions of license plate records


Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has recently been granted access to a vast database of license plate records, with the aim of using the information in investigations of undocumented immigrants’ movement and locations. ICE struck a deal with Vigilant Solutions, a private firm specializing in data collection and analysis for law enforcement.

Vigilant’s License Plate Recognition platform collects billions of pieces of data to help match license plates to both people and locations, and even offers live real-time alerts of specific plates when new hits are reported. The firm gathers data from license plate readers and other reports from law enforcement, repossession companies, private individuals, and even readers mounted on traffic lights.

Because Vigilant is not a government agency, it is not beholden to many of the legal mandates that reign in law enforcement from infringing on people’s rights, such as obtaining a signed search warrant. As a result, Vigilant can conduct analysis of the known history of any license plate in its database and create a ‘history’ of locations it has been tagged in, which may even include residences. ICE receives this packaged information as a customer, and potentially uses it to pinpoint targets of investigation.

ICE claims it is not seeking to create a database of its own, and will not contribute information to any such database public or private, but with access to Vigilant’s information it frankly doesn’t need to. The potential for monitoring millions of license plates over time and travel is already there, and this contract with a private firm gives them ICE to the results. There are many reasons to be concerned about law enforcement’s access to such data, but there is particular concern that ICE may weaponize this information to target vulnerable communities.

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