New Documents Show That Feds Share License Plate Scanning Data With Insurance Firms

from the crony-capitalism dept

It’s one thing for governments to make use of license plate scanning equipment to catalog what cars are crossing their borders. But it takes it to a whole different level to then share that data with insurance firms. However, it appears that’s exactly what the US government is doing. A Freedom of Information Act request by privacy group EPIC, discovered that US Customs (part of Homeland Security) is sharing license plate scans with the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), which is actually an organization made up of just about every insurance company.

The reasons for such sharing of info may appear to be noble. It’s technically to try to spot stolen vehicles.

The purpose of furnishing LPR information is to verify that vehicles departing from and arriving into the United States are not stolen vehicles. NICB has access to unique information regarding stolen vehicles, as well as the means of exchanging information regarding stolen vehicles with member insurance company Special Investigative Units and Federal and State law enforcement authorities.

The memorandum of understanding insists that the data can only be used for these purposes, but it’s unclear if there’s any real way to police that, and it certainly means that the uses by NICB are not subject to a FOIA request, since they’re not a part of the government. The only “remedy” presented for a firm that uses the information otherwise is to be stricken from the “shared” list. There are also some concerns that even the sharing of the info may be in violation of existing laws.

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Comments on “New Documents Show That Feds Share License Plate Scanning Data With Insurance Firms”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: License plate sharing

Well, I could make the case that insurers and their honest customers pay taxes and that reducing rates of car theft and increasing the rate of recovery of stolen vehicles provides a saving that can be realized in lower rates. Seems like in easily could benefit the general public- at least those that have any sort of insurance policy from one of the participating insurers.

Sneeje (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: License plate sharing

Perhaps, but it becomes more difficult to argue that when there are alternatives, such as the above, that can achieve the same end without sharing or distributing the information.

For example, there are some government agencies that have an arrangement with cruise lines to look for possible terrorists on their passenger and crew lists, but they do this without sharing their respective lists with one another. They do it through double-blind anonymization and comparisons of hashes. If there is a hit, they can contact the cruise line and discuss that specific hit, but otherwise the list is encrypted and not available for any other use.

Anonymous Coward says:

I am not necessarily against the sharing of information, I am way more concerned about how it is used or/and how it is shared.

With that said, I don’t see how this could be misused, therefore I am asking what kinds of risks this can bring and what is the be bad or good in it? what are the scenarios that are possible?

Is there more info being shared?
Locations, dates, photos, videos, vehicle owner information?
Accident reports anything that shows this could be a problem?

Only plate numbers are not that much of a concern, but maybe I am wrong and someone can explain it to me how this could be abused.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Very little information is actually harmful until it’s harmful. Take for example, the Netherlands birth certificate system, which didn’t seem bad in its extensiveness until the Nazis used it to track down people of Jewish descent. (That’s the classic case of privacy concerns)

In this case, the insurance company already knows your plate number & the info associated with that, so knowing when you’re travelling out of country, (and where to, and where along the border), is a substantial amount of information. With the wealth of other information insurances companies keep and sniff out, I’m not too comfortable with the gov’t giving them direct aid in this unethical behaviour.

G Thompson (profile) says:

With that said, I don’t see how this could be misused,

Say you have insurance for your vintage vehicle that states it can only be driven a certain number of miles/kilometres per year and/or cannot go interstate and especially not cross borders unless you pay an extra charge for some reason.

Lo and behold the Insurance company sends you a bill to either pay this or they will remove your insurance (for voiding the bullshit contract requirement) and let other insurers know that you have lied on your promise. Guess where they got the info from?

Oh they get fined? or removed from the list? so what. That’s probably going to be incorporated into the cost of your insurance premium in future anyway.

Yes it can be abused and because it can be logic dictates at some point it WILL BE!

Criminal data which stolen goods are should ONLy be used by authorities that have a mandate with that criminal data. NOT private companies who can take no action anyway other than call the police, though they might try heavy handed unlawful interference actions… which is called abuse of power (ultra vires)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That’s the way it goes I guess :/ all the big companies can pretty much get away with murder.

There is no real deterrent to stop abuse.. A fine is no big deal they will be like okay our bad and continue to do the same bullshit.

Now if we fuck up it’s a whole different story we will face jail time for even some of the most stupid shit like “farting at a cop”

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

There are a fair few reasons why people sign contracts, especially insurance contracts, even when they don’t like or even understand (though that’s a separate issue) the terms.

It could be due to monopilisation, industry standard duress practices, the list is huge

And just because you might of committed Insurance fraud (has to be proven first) does not give the insurance companies the right to ultra vire information.

Or would you like them to start profiling you based on your DNA that might be on file. It’s the same situation though not as controversial

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

While it goes without saying that not everyone is terribly honest all the time, corporations have the upper hand against a consumer in that department.

Why should you declare that you might take a trip or two a year beyond the forty mile radius you normally occupy when they are already nickle-and-diming you to death?

It’s a somewhat food thing that there is an increasing amount of “good driver” exceptions used in the industry, but the default is to use statistics against every individual. And no matter the discount, they are still gaming you somewhere else.

I don’t say this from some sort of personal bitterness, either. I had a freaking awesome insurance agent when I was driving.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

breaching a contract (whether over a dubious clause or not, is not fraud. You cannot defraud for contract breach there needs to be financial gain or the intent to obtain financial gain by falsifying a claim for damages.

We are NOT talking about that here and if you think we are you are deluding yourself and need to really go and understand what contracts are and what fraud is and the absolute differences between them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

So you fear that the data will be used against people defrauding insurance companies? Interesting. Seems to me that all of us other honest consumers are probably paying higher premiums when someone lowers their own risk profile by lying to insurers. Not sure that example evokes a lot of sympathy.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Read my comment to other poster above, and rememebr just becasue you might do something wrong or not.. could be reasonable circumstances -necessity, hardship, etc for you to travel cross border – up to court to decide if you have breached your contract or whether it was just de minimus. This does not equate to a corporation obtaining private records (and would be interesting if it was a breach of Canadian privacy laws this one) for unknown dubious means

Two wrongs do not a right make

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Of course! Don’t blame the unfair system used by insurers. Blame consumers who are required to have insurance and try to drag their premiums somewhere back near to reality.

I think you’ll also find that strictly honest consumers/taxpayers are largely a myth. Just as honest corporations are. The American Way is for everyone to game everyone else for the best personal outcome. It is indirect haggling.

DannyB (profile) says:

Darn -- FOIA'ed again!

Only criminal terrorist commies support FOIA. It should be abolished. It lets bad people obtain information on how the good guys (eg government and private money) are going after ‘bad’ people. Trust us. This kind of information would never be misused. Shouldn’t the government share all the information it has on citizens with private interests — as long as they are wealthy and/or powerful enough? What could go wrong?

Think of the children!

Machin Shin (profile) says:


Is it just me that thinks this just seems like the flow of information if totally backwards? Why would the government be sharing all the license plate scans with a private group to “look for stolen cars”. Wouldn’t it make much more sense for this group to instead feed the government with information about what license plates are reported stolen?

artp (profile) says:

Why aren't the insurance companies sharing data with the government?

Funny that the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) isn’t sharing data with the government. Trade secret, perhaps? Loss of economic advantage. maybe? Just corporate stubbornness about letting anybody else get an advantage? Did you want fries with that?

It has always baffled me that police officers want to know if you are insured. Part of the requirements of passing a law requiring me to have car insurance should be that the insurance companies open up their databases to the authorities, so that they can KNOW that I am insured without asking me. That is legal evidence, isn’t it? What’s the difference between subpoenaing the information versus requiring the insurance companies upfront to make it available?

In 2000, after Y2K expired and after the dotcom crisis decimated the tech market, things were still going good for tech companies here in Iowa, the capital of the insurance industry. There are more SANs in Des Moines, Iowa than you can shake a stick at. The data is there. Like most industries, they invest heavily in fraud detection, which requires humungoid datasets, and the processor horsepower to query it.

Sure, require people to carry around a small, easily counterfeited proof-of-insurance card. But then check back to the mothership to make sure.

It should be the same with any other data that the government requires from insurance companies.

Anonymous Coward says:

I was wondering what sort of nefarious purpose this could entail, and that was when I started browsing the net.

Came across a cracked article, 6 Terrifying User Agreements You’ve Probably Accepted, and it seemed to have in some part a tie in to this.

I’ll quote the gist so it can be cleared up.

“As it turns out, OnStar […] They recently updated their terms of use contract to include two new points. First off, a new agreement forces you to allow OnStar to sell your driving data to whomever they want. We’re talking stuff like vehicle speed and location, current odometer reading, driver seat-belt use and air-bag deployment. If that doesn’t sound too bad, wait until they sell it to your insurance company, Speedy.

There’s also a fine chance that, much like the GPS company TomTom, they could receive a subpoena ordering them to release your data to the police. And since we’re talking about technology that can basically record everything you do and say inside your vehicle, OnStar offers so much more information than your typical GPS. In other words, if you’re fleeing from justice, don’t do it in a newer vehicle.”

Suddenly the comparing of government databases seem kind of a better way to go.

Anonymous Coward says:

To fuel the conspiracy theories I would like to point out that such database must be huge and probably is using more computer resources than say the drug enforcement people that have only 40 TB of global storage.

I alone have half that in my home.

GMacGuffin says:

Goal: Profit; Means: Deny Claims

I worked on behalf of insureds for a decade. This is what I learned:

Insurance companies have one goal, and that is to make a profit. The easiest way to do that is to deny claims. The *preferred* way to do that is legitimately. That’s why the insurance industry probably has better investigators than the government. Anything they can tack onto one of the myriad coverage exceptions can be used to deny payment.

Say our hypothetical injured insured goes to Mexico for cheap drugs. InsCo gets wind of it. Suddenly, they are denying claim. “People who are actually injured don’t go to Mexico.” OR “Purchase of potentially illegal drugs voids policy” OR “Injury, if any (which we don’t admit), must have occurred in Mexico, which the policy doesn’t cover” … you get the point.

So there’s likely all sorts of nefarious stuff Insurance Industry could do with the license plate data.

(Also, all that “news” about rampant auto-insurance fraud is pure propaganda.)

Baldaur Regis (profile) says:

Re: Goal: Profit; Means: Deny Claims

Insurance companies have one goal, and that is to make a profit. The easiest way to do that is to deny claims.

The second easiest way is to add (and charge for) hilariously implausible scenarios. For instance, I can’t drive through “radioactive areas” or transport “explosive or potentially explosive materials”. This totally ruined my plan to fund my vacation to visit Chernobyl by selling hairspray. Damn you AllState!

artp (profile) says:

Re: Goal: Profit; Means: Deny Claims

You got that right. They set their rates based on the actuarial tables, and then winnow out the folks that make the actuarial tables less profitable.

My current (mis)insurance company is great at denying claims, forgetting claims for a few months, reversing denial of claims, telling me my claims are not eligible for payment because I have files too many of them, and then starting all over again. Apparently, their health care professionals, who have never seen me or talked to me, know more about my case than the professionals that are actually treating me. I keep calling that medical malpractice, but I haven’t found anyone who agrees with me.

They were supposed to pay on the same rules as my previous insurance company, but their rules keep changing besides not complying with the rules that they are supposed to follow. Imagine my surprise when I found out that they are owned by my previous insurance company.

Anonymous Coward says:

gee, do you pirates get mad at the fact if you cancel your insurance, because you sold the car, do not even own car, and the insurance company will tell the state you have no insurance and the state suspends your license, do you feel that is abuse??? or because its not the big evil government tracking you, its ok???

Cosmicrat says:

Insurance co.s are not your friend

Regarding “people who violate their contracts with car insurers cause rates to go up for the rest of us”, are you high? Car insurance companies are never going to lower rates overall unless they are forced to. All this advertising about “let us track you and we might lower your rates” is BS. What they will do is raise rates for everyone save a few, and laugh all the way to the bank. And to those who say “just don’t sign the contract”, it’s not like you have a realistic choice. Car insurance is mandated by law, and the insurance industry colludes to create monopolistic standards and uniform contracts. I have talked personally to and outgoing deputy insurance regulator in my state who told me the industry is highly unethical and operates essentially outside government regulation because legislators and executives who have been bribed with campaign contributions de-fund the regulatory agencies. These are corporations we are talking about and corporations have no soul, no moral compass. Their only purpose is to make a profit. Any time the government requires you to buy a product from a for profit business they have a responsibility to he public to regulate that industry very carefully, and they fail miserably in this case. The car insurance business is out of control and needs to be reigned in. Sharing information with them this way is a big mistake, leading to even worse exploitation of their captive customers.

Anonymous Coward says:

I eagerly await the insurance companies taking note of the license plates of vehicles found to be driving in traffic some arbitrary number of times in some arbitrary period of time, and using that as justification to increase the person’s insurance rate.

After all, people who drive in traffic are at elevated risk for being in an accident, and they should have to pay more, right?

Steve Ross says:

AAA denies collision claim on basis of border crossing information

The Automobile Club of Southern California is denying my collision claim on the grounds of my being a “regular or frequent” driver into Mexico which amounts to less than a half a dozen times a year at the most. They obviously obtained this information from license plate recordings at the San Ysidro Border crossing data base. I have a date to meet them in Small Claims Court. Any ideas on what I can present to the Court to disqualify their information ? With 300,000 crossings a day as a 71 year old retired guy going to Tijuana a few times a year for lunch I hardly am a frequent and regular driver in Mexico and feel it is unfair of them to deny my claim but they are using this information against me. any thoughts to

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