ICE using automated license plate reader database to spy on immigrants


U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have tapped a large surveillance database to spy on immigrants, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California.

“It is appalling that ICE has added this mass surveillance database to its arsenal, and that local law enforcement agencies and private companies are aiding the agency in its surveillance efforts,” Vasudha Talla, a staff attorney with the organization, said in a release. “Local law enforcement agencies must immediately stop sharing their residents' information with this rogue and immoral agency.”

The ACLU of Northern California released records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit that showed more than 80 local law enforcement agencies from municipalities like Union City and Merced, Calif., are sharing information with ICE, which, under a $6.1 million contract uncovered last year, has access to Vigilant Solutions’ automated license plate reader (ALPR) database.

Through the database ICE has access to more than five billion points of location information gathered through readers mounted on police cars or road signs and bridges, making it possible for agents to pinpoint drivers’ locations.  

“Drivers, regardless of their immigration status, are getting caught up in this mass surveillance dragnet that gives law enforcement far too much information about people’s lives,” said Talla. “Such supercharged surveillance powers inevitably lead to abuse and discriminatory targeting, particularly of communities of color, protesters, religious minorities, and immigrants. And given ICE’s egregious record of terrorizing immigrant communities, we have even more reason to be alarmed.”

Talla, in a blog post, said “the civil liberties risks of license plate readers take on greater urgency as this surveillance information fuels ICE’s deportation machine” and, she noted, the information gathered “is stored for years, generating a literal and intimate roadmap of people’s private lives.” 

The rights group has sent letters to the local law enforcement agencies involved asking them to stop sharing the information with ICE as well as limit use of readers and develop privacy policies that includes protecting citizens’ “data from being used for the purpose of enforcing immigration law.”

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