A chain of malls in California is using license plate reading technology to collect the numbers on cars in their parking lots, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF,) which advocates online for civil rights. The mall operator, Irvine Company Retail Properties, then transmits the information to a surveillance technology vendor called Vigilant Solutions, which sells the data to clients.
One of Vigilant’s clients happens to be ICE. Local law enforcement agencies also use its license plate databases.
"The International Association of Chiefs of Police has recognized this, warning that “mobile LPR units could read and collect the license plate numbers of vehicles parked at addiction counseling meetings, doctors' offices, health clinics, or even staging areas for political protests,” and therefore can have a “chilling effect on social and political activities.” Moreover, without appropriate privacy protections in place, local governments using license plate readers can amass a database of the comings and goings of innocent people over as long of a period of time as they have capacity for storage – and even share the information with other entitles. In this way, license plate readers can create building blocks of a massive government database about New Yorkers." (NYCLU)
Yonkers has six mobile license plate readers and one stationary license plate reader as of the end of December 2012, and also had no written policy on their use according to the NYCLU Yonkers admitted that it was indefinitely keeping all data that it had collected through the license plate readers and states the following on The Yonkers City Government website:
"The City of Yonkers, as part of the Operation Impact jurisdiction, received 4 license plate readers. A license plate reader (LPR) can recognize over 1,000 license plates an hour on vehicles as they pass either a portable or stationary unit. The information downloaded into the plate reader from the New York State Police Information Network (NYSPIN) allows a law enforcement officer performing a special detail or routine patrol to detect a motor vehicle driven by an unlicensed and/or revoked operator or any other motor vehicle insurance violation.
It is also an essential tool when an Amber Alert is issued as the LPR can alert the officer if the license plate related to the Amber Alert is detected. The LPR can also be used for homeland security, electronic surveillance, suspect interdiction, stolen property recovered, facility management and a number of other policing requirements. Currently, the LPR in Yonkers is primarily used for identifying stolen vehicles, stolen license plates, suspects and vehicle and insurance issues."
As of January 2018, ICE has a contract to gain access to a national database of license plates, a move the agency says will support it's investigations. ICE spokesman James Schwab said the agency has issued a contract “to obtain query-based access to a commercially available license plate reader database.”
The contract "is neither seeking to build nor contribute to a national public or private LPR database." The contract was awarded to West Publishing (TRSS) in partnership with Vigilant Solutions, ICE confirmed.
The move concerned some activists regarding the implications of the immigration enforcement agency's ability to research an individual license plate. But such a capability is not unusual for law enforcement agencies to have.
"Like most other law enforcement agencies, ICE uses information obtained from license plate readers as one tool in support of its investigations," ICE spokesperson Dani Bennett said in a statement. "ICE conducts both criminal investigations and civil immigration enforcement investigations. 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."