Moving to embrace technology already being utilized by police departments, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is set to begin tracking license plates nationwide.
ICE has reportedly finalized a contract to gain access to a national license plate recognition database which it hopes will give it the ability to better track the movement of criminal illegal immigrants who can be apprehended and deported.
The contract is reported to be with Vigilant Solutions which provides state of the art analytic tools to law enforcement agencies and has accumulated a collection of license plates for over 2 billion vehicles.
— The Verge (@verge) January 26, 2018
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.
“Knowing the previous locations of a vehicle can help determine the whereabouts of subjects of criminal investigations or priority aliens to facilitate their interdiction and removal,” an official privacy assessment explains. “In some cases, when other leads have gone cold, the availability of commercial LPR data may be the only viable way to find a subject.”
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.
The new license plate reader contract comes after years of internal lobbying by the agency. ICE first tested Vigilant’s system in 2012, gauging how effective it was at locating undocumented immigrants. Two years later, the agency issued an open solicitation for the technology, sparking an outcry from civil liberties group. Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson canceled the solicitation shortly afterward, citing privacy concerns, although two field offices subsequently formed rogue contracts with Vigilant in apparent violation of Johnson’s policy. In 2015, Homeland Security issued another call for bids, although an ICE representative said no contract resulted from that solicitation.
As a result, this new contract is the first agency-wide contract ICE has completed with the company, a fact that is reflected in accompanying documents. On December 27th, 2017, Homeland Security issued an updated privacy assessment of license plate reader technology, a move it explained was necessary because “ICE has now entered into a contract with a vendor.”
This news will all but certainly result in ear-piercing howls of protest from the left and especially organizations that are heavily invested in waging a guerrilla war against the no-nonsense policies of the Trump administration on the enforcement of immigration laws.
There are privacy concerns but law enforcement agencies outside of ICE have been utilizing these technologies for years.
Let’s face it; we are in an entirely new world now where technological advances are so rapid that they have exceeded the ability of lawmakers and the courts to find an appropriate balance between security and privacy and quite frankly, there has not been much public interest to engage in any sort of a reasonable debate.