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The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has officially gained agency-wide access to a nationwide license plate recognition database, according to a contract finalized earlier this month. The system gives the agency access to billions of license plate records and new powers of real-time location tracking, raising significant concerns from civil libertarians.
Still, the biggest concern for critics is the sheer scale of Vigilant’s network, assembled almost entirely outside of public accountability. “If ICE were to propose a system that would do what Vigilant does, there would be a huge privacy uproar and I don’t think Congress would approve it,” Stanley says. “But because it’s a private contract, they can sidestep that process.”
“Are we as a society ... willing to let our government create an infrastructure that will track all of us?”
new powers of real-time location tracking, raising significant concerns from civil libertarians.
“She was a completely innocent person, a longtime employee of the city of San Francisco, and one night police mistakenly picked up her license plate and said it was stolen because it misread a 3 for a 7,” her lawyer, Michael Haddad, said in an interview. “The officer radioed out to other officers. They didn’t clarify, visually, if Denise Green’s actual license plate was the same as the computer system was telling it. Without any verification, they decided to do a high-risk traffic stop. It included pulling her out of her car at gunpoint, forcing her onto her knees, handcuffing her.”
He added, “Police know these things aren’t foolproof. They’re not 100 percent accurate. But sometimes police will rely on technology and treat it as if it is perfect, and the consequences are that they’ll use force against people when it’s not justified.”
Haddad and Green sued the city of San Francisco, and in 2015 won a settlement for close to $500,000. Hoertsch says he knows about the Green case, and now uses it as an example of what not to do when training officers on the license plate reader system. “That was p----poor training,” he says. “Whenever anybody gets a log-on, I say this is the way it works, we don’t want to be pulling grandma over at gunpoint.”