ICE to Track Licence Plates Through Surveillance Technology

Created: 30 January, 2018
Last update: 27 July, 2022

By Mario A. Cortez

Long exposure of freeway and city skyline of San Diego, California.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has obtained access to a nationwide license plate recognition database in a move raising concerns over privacy, this according to technology news site The Verge.

The system now at the disposal of ICE allows the agency to view a database containing billions of records and have the ability to track licenses in real time.

Earlier this week, an ICE spokesperson disclosed that the data which is now accessible to ICE officers comes from Vigilant Solutions, a company based out of Livermore, California, which specializes in analytics for law enforcement and license plate recognition.

With possession of this technology, ICE can access Vigilant’s database in two ways.

Agents can search through a historical database which contains every license plate which has been collected over the span of the last five years. Information obtained through this search can provide information about often-frequented places and even be used to find a person’s residence.

ICE Agents can now also receive alerts via email, or through Vigilant’s iOS app, about particular licence plates though a system known as the “hot list”, which can contain up to 2,500 plates per list. With sightings being collected by police dashcams and readers on public roads, vehicles being searched for can be found with ease by anyone searching for them.

In a statement published by The Verge, spokesperson Dani Bennett stated that “ICE uses information obtained from license plate readers as one tool in support of its investigations.”

Bennett added that “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.”

VIgilant Solutions currently possesses over 2 billion photos of license plates which have been entered into the system through partnerships with vehicle repossession agencies and law enforcement. According to The Verge, the network feeding data to Vigilant’s system can generate around 100 million license plate sightings per month, each one containing GPS coordinates with a date and time.

The move comes in the wake of increases in immigration-related arrests and federal agents feeling emboldened to pursue international workers who have entered the United States without documentation.

Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union have denounced the partnership between ICE and Vigilant Solutions.

“There are people circulating in our society who are undocumented,” ACLU senior policy analyst Jay Stanley said to The Verge. “Are we as a society, out of our desire to find those people, willing to let our government create an infrastructure that will track all of us?”