from the price-of-freedom-is-eternal-Vigilant-open-letters dept
It turns out the most oppressed demographic in this country is the one with power, guns, unions, extra rights, and plenty of civil immunity. Law enforcement agencies around the country currently besieged by public records requests are having their fears assuaged and brows unfurrowed by the nation’s largest provider of automatic license plate reader technology.
Earlier this year, the EFF and public records clearinghouse MuckRock joined forces to file approximately 1,000 public records requests with agencies partnering with Vigilant. Apparently this influx of up to one additional records request per agency has pushed law enforcement to its limits. Vigilant Solutions has stepped up to let law enforcement officers know it has their back during this ongoing national nightmare. (h/t Dave Maass, Camille Fassett)
Dear Vigilant Solutions Customer,
We know you are experiencing an onslaught of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Public Records Act (PRA) requests from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and MuckRock regarding your use of our license plate reader (LPR) technology. We write this letter to let you know, quite simply, we support you and are here for you.
Just to be clear, this “onslaught” is composed of one request per law enforcement agency. There’s no point in doubling up on requests since that would just waste time and resources. There may be some inadvertent double filings, but that would only mean some agencies have seen more than one request for Vigilant documents. In no case are any agencies being targeted with mass duplicated requests. So, this “onslaught” might be cumulative in total, but it basically comes down to a 1/1 ratio of requests/agencies.
From there, Vigilant’s letter [PDF] devolves into talking points about the great law enforcement work being done with its passive collection systems. It highlights a handful of nonspecific success stories — stories it claims the EFF and MuckRock ignore — as justification for 24/7 gathering of license plate/location data. Again, this poor attempt to slam both entities as anti-law enforcement fails. No one disputes ALPRs help catch criminals. The problem is they’re often put into place with zero public comment, zero discussion by public officials, zero guidelines for data gathering and retention, and with an eye on law enforcement efficiency above everything else.
The letter tries to mock EFF as being noble fools for pointing out how many agencies have access to Vigilant plate data.
The EFF has noted that California agencies are sharing with the U.S. Forest Service, universities on the East Coast, and airports in Tennessee. EFF is apparently unaware that criminals travel across state lines. Perhaps these writers have not read the countless stories about crimes committed on college campuses, at airports and even in National Parks.
This willfully ignores the reason the EFF points out the long list of agencies with access to data. It’s not that the EFF doesn’t know suspected criminals move around the country or that criminal acts can occur anywhere. It’s that hundreds of agencies are dipping into this data without clear, concise guidance on what they can access and how they can use it. For some agencies not tasked with law enforcement, it’s unclear why they’re even able to pull data from a database supposedly created for law enforcement use only.
But the most ridiculous part of the letter is its ending, in which Vigilant claims the EFF and MuckRock are doing this for the clicks.
The real impetus behind this campaign is so EFF and MuckRock can capitalize on the most well-known emotional trigger for fundraising: Fear. Their aim is to paint a false picture of sharing LPR data by leading their readers to believe it is reckless, unrestricted and used to track individuals. In short, they are attempting to scare individuals into hitting one of the countless “Contribute” and “Donate” buttons on their website.
Wow. Way to stick it to a couple of nonprofits, Vigilant. The “doing it for money/eyeballs/ad revenue/etc.” argument is a full-throated admission you can’t find anything legitimate to complain about. Vigilant sure seems defensive for an entity that believes it’s nothing but a net gain for public safety. This letter is hilarious — an admission Vigilant can be put on the defensive by a steady trickle of public records requests from around the nation.
It’s also kind of hypocritical. Vigilant has brought lawsuits against states claiming their anti-ALPR laws violated the company’s First Amendment right to collect license plate photographs en masse. Now, it’s reaching out to law enforcement agencies to let them know Vigilant will be there for them while citizens exercise their First Amendment rights by requesting a much smaller quantity of public records. This open letter of Vigilant’s is terrible optics. Either it shows Vigilant can be put on the defensive by people seeking information about its products, or it believes law enforcement officers are feeling threatened by the incremental increase in FOIA paperwork. Either way, it’s a terrible look and a terrible response.