Vigilant And Its Customers Are Lying About ICE's Access To Plate Records

from the burying-the-truth-with-talking-points dept

Everyone’s hooking up ICE with automatic license plate reader (ALPR) data. And everyone’s misleading the public about it, starting with ALPR manufacturer, Vigilant. The EFF has been investigating California law enforcement’s data sharing claims with relation to its Vigilant ALPRs and finding their public statements are directly contradicted by internal communications obtained with public records requests.

Vigilant tries to keep as much information about data sharing under wraps by forcing purchasers to sign restrictive non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements. Law enforcement agencies are secretive by default, so this allows them to double down on opacity. Vigilant has taken a hardline approach to negative press, threatening journalists with lawsuits for asking too many questions and publishing the answers they’ve received.

Last summer, EFF volunteer Zoe Wheatcroft, a high school student in Mesa, Ariz., discovered a curious document on a website belonging to the Irvine Company, a real estate developer based in Orange County. The document showed that private security patrols were using ALPR to gather data on customers at Irvine Company-owned shopping malls . As EFF reported, Irvine Company then transferred that information to Vigilant Solutions, a controversial ALPR vendor well-known for selling data to ICE.

We asked the mall operator, Irvine Company, to explain itself, but it refused to answer questions. However, after EFF published its report, Irvine Company told reporters ALPR data was not shared with ICE, but only three local police departments. Then Vigilant Solutions issued a press release saying “the entire premise of the article is false,” and accused EFF of “creating fake news.” Vigilant Solutions also demanded we retract the post and apologize, saying that it was “evaluating potential legal claims” against EFF.

The EFF’s reporting has been backed up by emails obtained by the ACLU that show Irvine Company was one of many agencies sharing ALPR data with ICE. It was also sharing it with other law enforcement agencies beyond the three listed in a statement given to the EFF. One of the agencies Irvine Company shared data with was an Orange County fusion center — a joint anti-terrorism effort headed up by the DHS. The fusion center fed the Vigilant ALPR data to other California law enforcement agencies, along with ICE. The emails show someone at Irvine Company sending PDFs of plate records directly to an ICE agent, violating the confines of its data-sharing agreement and allowing the ICE agent to bypass internal controls on plate data access.

Vigilant continues to deny its data is being handed out to ICE by California law enforcement agencies. Meanwhile, Irvine Company has quietly terminated its contract with Vigilant and refuses to discuss its data sharing any further. The EFF has passed this information on to Motorola. Motorola acquired Vigilant earlier this year and may have relied on Vigilant’s misrepresentations about its customers and their data sharing when vetting this purchase. When reached for comment by the EFF, Motorola didn’t sound too happy about ICE’s access to plate records.

We are aware of the ACLU of Northern California’s recent report on license plate recognition data and assertions regarding data access by the Irvine Company. The referenced incident predates Motorola Solutions’ ownership of Vigilant Solutions, and we are currently working with Vigilant to assess the situation in greater detail.

Motorola Solutions is committed to the highest standard of integrity and data protection, which includes ensuring that vehicle location data is accessed only by authorized law enforcement agencies in accordance with applicable laws and industry standards. We also are committed to working with our customers and partners to ensure that use of vehicle location data hosted in our database is appropriately safeguarded to minimize the potential for misuse by any person.

Motorola may have a $445 million PR nightmare on its hands. Or it may just be happy to be making some money from domestic surveillance equipment. Vigilant also offers facial recognition tech. Given the tech’s history, this likely won’t be the last time Vigilant is on the receiving end of negative press.

But given the dishonesty of everyone involved, it’s time for California’s government to step up and start performing some actual oversight. The EFF is calling for an investigation of Vigilant and its law enforcement partners, with an eye on determining the extent of these data-sharing partnerships and their impact on the general public.

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Companies: vigilant

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Comments on “Vigilant And Its Customers Are Lying About ICE's Access To Plate Records”

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25 Comments
JP the Recurring Zombie (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If I have done nothing wrong, what business is it of anyone what I’m doing or where I’m going?

One of the best comments to this that I’ve seen over the years is simply this:

Privacy is NOT for hiding, never was; privacy is for protecting, period.

Or as Snowden put it:

Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.

Since you have nothing to hide and nothing to fear then you have no problem with a state controlled webcam in your bathroom or bedroom either?

And while we are on the topic of nothing to fear, nothing to hide … why are you hiding behind the Anonymous Coward PRIVACY commenting account???

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Such a webcam could easily be jammed, since it would use wireless Internet protocols. If that ever happens, expect the market for jammers that jam wireless Internet (1x, 2g, 3g,4g, 5g, Wifi and WiMax) to really take off, least in the United States.

While jamming voice calls is illegal in the United States, jamming wireless Internet is not,

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Nothing to hide, nothing to fear."

…said by every person through history who eventually ended up on the wrong side of criminals, corrupt police, or a totalitarian government.

Go ask anyone of jewish descent about whether they’d agree with that assessment of yours.
Or hell, in the US, in quite a lot of states, go ask anyone related to LGBTQ.

For that matter, go ask anyone who happens to be black, on whether they’d feel they have "anything to hide". Start in ferguson.

Privacy is a human need. Not a nice-to-have.

Anonymous Coward says:

peel the onion

…..so license-plates enable ALPR’s to collect detailed location data on the general public — that ends up being widely used for nefarious government and private purposes.

ALPR is useless without government mandated license-plates.
Just eliminate license-plates.

License-plates merely inform observers that the owner of the vehicle has legally registered that machine with the state government, and paid the required fees.
There’s no fundamental reason why a uniquely identifying ‘license-plate’ is required for that registration function.
A small non-unique window decal would serve just as well… or merely a paper copy of the registration slip in the glove compartment if challenged by a LEO.

Rationally peel the onion to reveal root causes of problems.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: peel the onion

Without number plates, good luck in tracing anyone who fails to stop at the scene of an accident, even if the event captured by a dozen cameras.

Also, do you want to be stopped just because the cop ‘believes’ a car of the same make, model and colour was reported stolen?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: peel

… those are the only specified statutory reasons/justification for the mandate… but monitoring the public has always been the primary unstated purpose of plates.

sure the plates are also useful for general law enforcement — but so would mandatory name-tags displayed by all citizens when out in public.
How about mandatory government registration of all personal valuables, so cops could more easily trace stolen jewelry, cell fones, computers, TV’s, etc ?

license-plates are merely a highly arbitrary, obsolete custom– but a real danger to privacy and liberty… as all this ALPR discussion demonstrates.

bob says:

Re: peel the onion

Unfortunately the intent of the license plate is more than just for showing you registered the vehicle. It is unique so that cops can verify with a simple computer search that you didnt transfer the plate from one vehicle to another without paying, ticketing an illegally parked car, or identifying the owner of an abandoned car.

At this point in time, it really is all about the money and the ability of the local government to track and identify the owner in as easy a manner as possible without having to search the glove box for the paperwork.

But I like the idea of removing the uniqueness of the plates so that ALPRs don’t work other than checking if a registration mark is found on the outside of the vehicle.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They do exist. LIke I said in another response, they take techonology designed to foil cammers in movie houses, and put it in a license plate frame, where nobody on the road will know what you are up to, the infrared device will render your number invisibkle to the camera, they will just see blank where your number would be

Anonymous Coward says:

This is why you to use tools to keep plate readers from getting your license plate number.

One tool, who nobody will ever know you are using, is the same technology some movie theatres are using to prevent movies from being cammed. They emit infra red just below at wavelengths just below what the human eye can see, but it screws up cameras.

This technology has been been adapted to prevent license plate cameras from ever getting your license nubmber. It is a license plate frame that emits infra red wavelengths that prevent any cameras from getting your number.

The only caveat is that you have to drive with your headlights on 24/7, since it needs power to run, and connects to the same circuit your headlights are on.

Since it is invisible to the human eye, unlike a plastic license plate cover, any cop in the area will have you no idea you are using one, becuase the wavelengths emitted are invisible to the human eye

Anonymous Coward says:

If EFF might be sued, there a way they can hide their money, where Vigilant’s lawyers cannot find it.

Just put it in all Bitcoins. They way Bitcoins work, they money cannot be found, becuase your bitcoins are merely a file in your computer, hence investigators will never know you have that.

I did that some years ago to save my ass when I got into an at fault auto accident. I merely hid the bulk of my money it Bitcoins for a while, and I was never sued, because they obviously figured that from what could find that I was not woth suing.

As soon as I got a letter from the insurance company that they had paid out a settlement, I put that money back in the bank, paid taxes in the small amount of increase I made when I had my money in Bitcoin, and nobody was ever the wiser.

Bitcoin is a good place to hide your money where anyone suing you cannot find it.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

The surveillance state in action.

They were lying blatantly when the NSA was doing its only metadata thing. James Clapper was lying to congress. They’re going to keep doing this. And no-one that can stop them cares.

Now imagine what happens when in 2024 or 2028 things haven’t changed much for the poorer half of the United States, and everyone is not just glad for scapegoats but desperate to have someone to blame for their misery.

Now imagine when another authoritarian demagogue runs for election on the GOP ticket and wins, even if by yet another narrow electoral college technicality. Except unlike Trump who is incompetent and proceeded to alienate the intelligence and surveillance states early on, this guy embraces them. He then sets ICE and whatever other willing DHS-run law enforcement agencies to route out and inconvenience dissenters. It’s not like they really have to worry about legality or constitutionality now, let alone then.

Imagine the US being a one-party state by 2032 with no plans to address climate change in sight.

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