Local police departments using automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) in conjunction with Vigilant Solutions databases are likely sharing information with the feds.

And they might not even know it.

A December 2020 report reveals the extent of this data sharing.

That month, the San Diego Times-Tribune reported that the Chula Vista Police Department was sharing ALPR data with over 800 law enforcement agencies, including ICE.

Chula Vista police chief Chief Roxana Kennedy claimed she didn’t know about the data sharing, saying somebody clicked a “share all” button when they set up the system.

“I blame myself,” Kennedy said during a meeting with the Community Advisory Committee on Jan. 14. “I didn’t even realize that there was ICE and Border Patrol on there.”

The city entered into the agreement with Vigilant Solutions in 2017. The city purchased four patrol car-mounted ALPR systems and bought a $10,000 subscription to the company’s Law Enforcement Archival Reporting Network.

According to reporting by the Times-Tribune, the department shared the image, location, date and time of each vehicle photographed by the city’s ALPRs with over 800 subscribers to the Vigilant system — including federal agencies.

“If they are part of the sharing agreement, they have access,” a Chula Vista Police Department spokesperson told the paper.

Vigilant Solutions is owned by Motorola. It is a private company, but it is deeply embedded in the growing national surveillance state. And it’s not alone. In late 2019, Rekor Systems announced that they had launched the Rekor Public Safety Network (RPSN) which gives law enforcement real-time access to license plates.

“Any state or local law enforcement agency participating in the RPSN will be able to access real-time data from any part of the network at no cost. The Company is initially launching the network by aggregating vehicle data from customers in over 30 states. With thousands of automatic license plate reading cameras currently in service that capture approximately 150 million plate reads per month, the network is expected to be live by the first quarter of 2020.”

These private databases turn local cops into data collectors for the feds.

ALPRs can scan, capture and record thousands of license plates every minute and store them in massive databases, along with date, time and location information.

Records obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) through open records requests encompassed information compiled by 200 law enforcement agencies that utilize ALPRs. The data revealed more than 2.5 billion license plate scans in just two years (2016 and 2017).

Perhaps more concerning, this gigantic sample of license plate scans reveals that 99.5 percent of this data was collected regardless of whether the vehicle or its owner were suspected of being involved in criminal activity. On average, agencies share this data with a minimum of 160 other agencies. In some cases, agencies share this data with as many as 800 other agencies.

Police generally configure ALPRs to store the photograph, the license plate number, and the date, time, and location of a vehicle’s license plate, which is bad enough. But according to records obtained by the ACLU via a Freedom of Information Act request, these systems also capture photographs of drivers and their passengers.

The only way to cut the flow of information into these databases is to prohibit ALPR data retention and sharing at the state and local level

Mike Maharrey

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