In excess of nine thousand employees from Immigration and Customers Enforcement (ICE) agency in the U.S. have access to a huge license plate database.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) broke the news after obtaining thousands of pages of agency documents through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. These documents have uncovered a database of license plate collection run by a company called Vigilant Solutions. As reported by The Verge, this database allows users to track cars against previously compiled license plate data.
Communications between Immigration and Customers Enforcement and local law enforcement reveals that authorities have access to billions of license plate scans, with hundreds of millions more added every month.
The American Civil Liberties Union reports that more than 9,200 ICE employees have access to the database. Information provided includes up to five years of driver information. According to the ACLU, this mounts to "both a significant invasion of privacy and [is] entirely unnecessary to find someone’s current location.”
It has also been revealed that more than 80 local law enforcement agencies share license plate information with ICE. A lack of safeguards to prevent abuse of the database is a major concern. ICE has a $6.1 million contract with Vigilant Solutions to access the database through to September 2020.
According to the ACLU, the ICE should "abide by its Sensitive Location policy, limiting surveillance near schools, hospitals, churches, protests, or weddings, [but] there is no way for ICE to know before searching the Vigilant database whether the search will turn up driver information near those locations.”
In a statement issued to The Verge, an Immigration and Customs spokesperson said it trains staff to use the database and doesn’t collect information on people with no connection to ICE investigatory or enforcement activities.
"All authorized ICE users must complete appropriate training before accessing the commercial LPR database," the spokesperson said.
"Additionally, all ICE employees are required to take mandatory training for data security, privacy, information assurance, and records management on an annual basis." ICE says it also limits access to those who need license plate reader data for "mission-related purposes."