Obtained Records Show ICE Is Using ALPR Databases To Reconstruct Targets' Lives

from the oh-good-real-world-examples-of-domestic-surveillance dept

ICE has full-blown access to license plate databases around the nation, as well as its own direct hookup to the largest ALPR database itself -- the one compiled by ALPR manufacturer Vigilant. It places almost no restrictions on searches of these databases. Anything that somehow isn't compliant can be farmed out to state and local agencies to perform searches by proxy.

The ACLU has obtained records showing just how much access ICE has, and how often it performs searches. The numbers are staggering, considering ICE is an immigration and customs enforcement agency with a more limited scope than the FBI and other investigative agencies.

Across seven months in 2018, ICE queried a nationwide license plate location database operated by Vigilant Solutions thousands of times each month, according to search logs obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Northern California. Using the explanations provided by ICE’s lawyers about what query types constituted searches, it appears that ICE performed over 30,000 such queries of this database per month.

Over 9,000 agents have access to the Vigilant database, which currently holds more than a billion records. Rather than run plates and see if they match a hit list, ICE agents use the database to locate people using their vehicles. They also use the database to reconstruct the movements of targets, including determining when they leave and return home and which businesses they frequent. What's included in the records turned over the ACLU is exactly the kind of surveillance privacy advocates have warned these databases enable.

Some of the search logs show ICE agents engaging in the expected ICE business, searching for holders of expired visas or rejected asylum applicants. But a lot of it shows ICE engaging in fishing expeditions, pulling records on US citizens, and tracking people's movements.

"INVESTIGATIONS ATTEMPTING TO LOCATE TRAVEL PATTERNS AND MOST LIKELY LOCATIONS OF INTEREST WHERE TO LOCATE SUBJECT" – February 12, 2018

"ADMINISTRATIVE TO SEE WHEN SUBJECT DEPARTS AND RETURNS TO RESIDENCE" – February 8, 2018

"INVESTIGATIONS RUNNING PLATE TO DETERMINE BUSINESS LOCATIONS WHERE OWNER IS GOING TO" – March 27, 2018

"INVESTIGATIONS PATTERN OF LIFE" – June 18, 2018

ICE could not be more on the nose with these searches, handing civil liberties advocates a whole bunch of ammo to use against the deployment of plate readers. Law enforcement claims ALPR databases are only used to run plates against hot lists, but the reality is these records are amassed by the millions and held for indeterminate periods of time. This combination allows agencies like ICE to reconstruct targets' lives, see where they work, which houses of worship they attend, what activities they engage in, and where they reside. The potential for abuse is no longer a point of discussion. It's happening. And if ICE is doing it, chances are a great number of agencies with Vigilant database access are doing it as well.

The records also show the ICE agents engage in database searches for other agencies, possibly allowing those agencies to avoid internal restrictions on searches.

"ADMINISTRATIVE INTERPOL RED NOTICE INVESTIGATION" – June 15, 2018

"INVESTIGATIONS HELP OTHER LEA [LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY]" – May 30, 2018

"CRIMINAL ASSIST CUMBERLAND COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE" – July 17, 2018

And this delicious bit of inter-agency friction:

"INVESTIGATIONS HELPING THE FBI WITH THINGS THEY SHOULD HAVE DONE ON THEIR OWN" – February 21, 2018

Thanks to Vigilant's tech advances, ICE agents are able to construct surveillance dragnets while on the move. Millions of plate records are only an app away. "Stakeout Browsing Mobile" allows agents to pull every plate record generated in the vicinity of where they're sitting. The obtained records show ICE agents performed this type of search 10,000 times in March 2018 alone.

The records provide incontrovertible proof ALPR databases are being used to engage in long-term surveillance of people's movements, rather than limited to investigations of severe criminal acts or matching scanned plates to hot lists. This should result in a Congressional inquiry, but given ICE's free rein under this administration, this seems unlikely. But this moves the discussion past the point of theoretical and into reality… at the rate of thousands of times per month by a single federal agency.

Filed Under: alpr, ice, surveillance


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2019 @ 4:02am

    You can’t just blame the administration. Apart from Wyden, none of the democrats seem to have much of a desire to protect our privacy. The House could investigate this even without the administration’s help.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2019 @ 5:40am

    Privacy is as obsolete as copyright.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Jun 2019 @ 4:00pm

      Re:

      Privacy is as obsolete as copyright.

      So says the Anonymous Coward.... Care to login so all may forever judge your comments and mete out their never-ending consequences in the future?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Annonymouse, 11 Jun 2019 @ 5:56am

    We keep watching you

    Google maps obfuscates faces and plates.

    Britain has CCCs but makes sure not to have resident s windows in the line of sight ... officially anyways.

    States just scans plates, deploys stingers and gps trackers so they can know exactly where you went and what you said and to who.

    Putin is jealously watching and China just smirks and shows it it is done.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2019 @ 6:09am

    I can probably find out what they have on me via a FOIA request. However, my question is is there a way to expunge my information? It does me very little good to know they have my information if I can't remove it. Also does is there a law that says you can't cover your plates once you park your car? What would happen if I just start slapping a big magnet over my plates once I park?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Burning woodchipper, 11 Jun 2019 @ 6:55am

      Re: Covering your plate

      Bikers used to hang helmets, jackets, bandannas, etc. over their plates when they parked, but the cops would either just move them or cite them for parking a vehicle without visible proof of registration on a public thoroughfare.

      But that was OK with the straights, because who cared what they did to the dirty bikers?

      Martin Niemöller was as prescient as Orwell or Huxley.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2019 @ 9:46am

      Re:

      What would happen if I just start slapping a big magnet over my plates once I park?

      If on private property it should be OK, and police shouldn't be able to trespass to peek under it. On a street or lot, check the relevant bylaws or rules.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2019 @ 6:36am

    Targets could drive around erratically or even spell out some messages for these voyeurs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    R,og/ S/, 11 Jun 2019 @ 8:46am

    ICE actually uses couples the gang databases with the ALPRs and Fusion Center monitoring, and warehouses immigrants in them, and THEN uses those immigrants as unpaid HUMINT, vis DHS CVE policies.

    In other words, ICE targets some immigrants, and turns them into informants, and then, uses those immigrants to create webs of associations, and targets US citizens, based on that.

    Even more bizarrely, in the,“information sharing environment,” ICE works with LEIUs and local cops, who run Christian-type churches that offer a bit of respite fo informers on the ICE strings.

    So, for example, a migre' uses a coyote in Mexico, that is affilliated/protected by CIA/FBI/MOSSAD handlers, and then, as soon as that poor American dreaming soul crosses the border, he is a “gang affilliate,” which gives ICE et Alphabet all the pretext and predicate they need to target them further.

    So, they milk the clock from every angle, and suck the DVIC tits at every nipple, including the bloody hanging Jeezuzes poor flagellated chest.

    Because for some of those SA/CA immigrants, they have seen actual crucifixions, so, ICE collaboration looks like a better choice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Wastrel (profile), 11 Jun 2019 @ 11:52am

    The ACLU spends far too much time being concerned about the civil liberties of illegal aliens, when their mission is to protect the liberties of US citizens under the US constitution. So, they want to stop ICE from using license plate numbers? Do they realize that cars that cross the border both ways, over and over, might be involved in human trafficking? Apparently not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 11 Jun 2019 @ 3:07pm

      Re:

      The ACLU spends far too much time being concerned about the civil liberties of illegal aliens, when their mission is to protect the liberties of US citizens under the US constitution.

      Yeah, I think I remember that part of the Fourth Amendment that says "(but just if you're a citizen lol)".

      Do they realize that cars that cross the border both ways, over and over, might be involved in human trafficking? Apparently not.

      Yes, people being illegally surveilled may be breaking the law. That's typically the justification the government uses for illegal surveillance. "We have to do it, or bad guys might get away."

      If you're surprised that the ACLU does not agree with that line of reasoning, then it seems to me that you may be unfamiliar with the organization.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2019 @ 11:53am

    ALPR countermeasures?

    Are there any commercially-available ALPR countermeasures that actually work (regardless of "legality")? Any home-brew devices/coatings?

    (And I don't mean remove plate or obstruct it with cardboad lol.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      R,og S/, 12 Jun 2019 @ 8:44am

      Re: ALPR countermeasures?

      yes, you can buy them on Ebay, Amazon, and they are a light reflectiive plastic sheild that shows the plate to the naked eye, but causes the IR in ALPRs to read blank.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2019 @ 7:02pm

    Now we just need to set up these perfectly-legal license plate readers just outside of every police precinct and correlate it with plate readings in neighborhoods and have those put online for anyone to see.

    If you, as a law enforcement officer, expect complete privacy in where you go and where you live, I do, too. If you can easily compromise my privacy, I should be able to easily compromise yours.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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