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First They Came For Free Travel: ICE Agents Will Access Massive License Plate Database in Real Time




A gestapo-style crackdown on immigrants in the United States illegally undoubtedly pleases nationalists eager to “take their country back” from the perceived threat such people might pose to, for instance, the menial physical labor job pool — but the zeal with which Dreamers and workers and asylum-seekers have been rounded up and deported overshadows the methods ICE agents have at their disposal — and any one of them could and may already have been used against you.

In fact, the Verge reported Friday U.S. 

will now be privy to a capacious database of license plates — data reaped by private corporations in the course of standard operations by automated license-plate readers, such as agencies tasked with vehicle repossession, but also that from various levels of law enforcement, including material collected by patrol-car mounted cameras — in what has been widely reported a dire portent of the agency’s scorched earth immigration tactics allowed to flourish under President Trump.

ICE signed a contract with Vigilant Solutions, according to the Verge, giving the government agency the ability to peer into the information for some two billion license plates it has amassed over the years in partnership with private firms and local law enforcement — data collected by now-ubiquitous plate-readers around the U.S.

As terrifying as that should be, two camps of thought dismiss the plan as either necessary to carry out the law or that ICE accessing the information pertaining to billions of wholly innocent Americans is just not that big a deal.

Both camps are dead wrong — for a plethora of constitutional rights-eradicating reasons.

Details the Verge [emphasis added]:

“While it collects few photos itself, Vigilant Solutions has amassed a database of more than 2 billion license plate photos by ingesting data from partners like vehicle repossession agencies and other private groups. Vigilant also partners with local law enforcement agencies, often collecting even more data from camera-equipped police cars. The result is a massive vehicle-tracking network generating as many as 100 million sightings per month, each tagged with a date, time, and GPS coordinates of the sighting.

“ICE agents would be able to query that database in two ways. A historical search would turn up every place a given license plate has been spotted in the last five years, a detailed record of the target’s movements. That data could be used to find a given subject’s residence or even identify associates if a given car is regularly spotted in a specific parking lot.”

Further still, “ICE agents can also receive instantaneous email alerts whenever a new record of a particular plate is found — a system known internally as a ‘hot list.’ (The same alerts can also be funneled to the Vigilant’s iOS app.) According to the privacy assessment, as many as 2,500 license plates could be uploaded to the hot list in a single batch, although the assessment does not detail how often new batches can be added. With sightings flooding in from police dashcams and stationary readers on bridges and toll booths, it would be hard for anyone on the list to stay unnoticed for long.”

As bone-chilling for privacy advocates as that entire description is, it’s necessary to remember the framing of this conversation is of people who have indeed broken the nation’s immigration laws — a threadbare if technically tolerable context for many who might otherwise take issue with such extensive tracking abilities bestowed upon a government agency widely regarded as insidious already.

Under the previous administration, Jeh Johnson backed away from a potential partnership with Vigilant Solutions over — you guessed it — privacy concerns for American citizens; but the Trump administration’s dogged law-and-order stance bulldozed over lingering vocal objections of civil rights and privacy advocates.

“Like most other law enforcement agencies, ICE uses information obtained from license plate readers as one tool in support of its investigations,” Dani Bennett, an agency spokesperson, declared in a statement. “ICE is not seeking to build a license plate reader database, and will not collect nor contribute any data to a national public or private database through this contract.”

This offers, of course, no guarantees against changing circumstances, switches in the administration’s policies, nor the framework to rein in the use of said database under future presidencies.

As Trump’s round ‘em up immigration purge seems destined only to amplify in intensity, tactic, brutality, and shamelessness, license plate-reader data may sign otherwise good and hard-working peoples’ lives into the hellish nightmare that is speedy deportation and lack of redress.

So be it, will scoff believers in authoritarian rule of law. Immigrants not following the rules have transgressed — so be it.

What they fail to grasp is that such roundups under the color of law and applied without exception to one group of people are as easily carried out by the same agency against other groups — think activists, dissidents, or even political challengers and rival parties, really, any group targeted — when the color of law turns a distinctly cloudier gray.

Image: ShutterStock/Lightspring.

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