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In Texas, Will License Plate Readers Double as Debt Collectors?

In Texas, Will License Plate Readers Double as Debt Collectors?

Big Brother just got a little stronger

Privacy advocates are not going to like this one.

Vigilant Solutions, a vehicle surveillance broker has offered access to its, “massive automated license plate reader databases,” to Texas law enforcement agencies. The catch? Vigilant receives access to outstanding court fees and receives 25% of any delinquent fines.

Wired has the story:

Vehicle surveillance broker Vigilant Solutions has offered Texas law enforcement agencies “free” access to its massive automated license plate reader databases and analytical tools— but only if the police give Vigilant access to all of their data on outstanding court fees and hand the company a 25 percent surcharge from money collected from drivers with outstanding court fines. Vigilant also gets to keep a copy of any license-plate data collected by the police, even after the contract ends, and can retain it indefinitely.

The EFF warns that it turns police into debt collectors and data miners. Neither policymakers nor the public have evaluated the technology, it contains a non-disparagement clause, and it uploads everyone’s driving patterns into a private system without any ways for these individuals to control how their data is used or shared.

But that’s not the worst part. The “stakeout” feature offers “predictive analysis” to determine all kinds of things like who individuals associate with and whether or not they might collude with other criminals.

According to a contract between Vigilant and the NYPD, the “Domain Awareness System” has extensive surveillance capabilities. The system combines license plate data with camera footage and surveillance devices, and it allows NYC police to monitor cars across the country. The software’s “stakeout” feature gives the NYPD access to who was at a location (such as a protest, a church, or even an abortion clinic) at a given time, and can use both “predictive analysis” to determine where a person is likely to be, and “associative analysis” to determine whether someone is a “possible associate” of a criminal.

What’s next, my TV telling me to put the ice cream down? That would be the end of that TV, by the way.

Follow Kemberlee on Twitter @kemberleekaye


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Tar. Feathers. Apply liberally. Repeat as needed.

A disturbing trend in law enforcement is to circumvent Constitutional and legal limitations on their activities by farming those activities out to private companies. This is a natural consequence of the trend toward Policing for Profit.

It must be banned.

    nordic_prince in reply to Same Same. | February 1, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    “Policing for fun & for profit” – sounds like it should be on the back cover of a comic book, right next to “Sell seeds – make money – earn prizes” ~

There going to be BIG pluses and BIG minuses to the era of BIG DATA.

Don’t get your hair on fire. Ask yourself what…if anything…is new. Couldn’t any private citizen or group do the same things as the Texas example?

Well, if the street panhandlers in Detroit can take donations by credit card, why can’t the government panhandlers in Texas do the same?

American Human | February 1, 2016 at 2:27 pm

This is similar to the fact that police can pull you over and smell your breath (without a reasonable suspicion) as long as they pull EVERYONE over and smell their breath.
The same with collecting license plates. As long as they collect everyone’s plate, they don’t need a warrant.
What is happening to our country?

    Ragspierre in reply to American Human. | February 1, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    Nonsense. IT is EXACTLY NOTHING LIKE your example.

    I can sit in a lawn chair beside any street in America and take down aalllllllll kinds of information about passing vehicles.

    That is in NO WAY analogous to pulling a motorist over.

      We’re not talking about pulling people over, though.

      Vigilant Solutions collects ALL license plate data in a given location. Every single plate. Then, by analyzing when and how often a particular plate shows up in a certain area, they can determine if it “belongs” there or if it’s visiting, whether it’s a frequent or regular visitor, and when it can be expected to return. It can also analyze and cross-reference with other plates to determine which “associate” (i.e. appear in near-vicinity regularly) with each other. This is all based on plate numbers; they don’t need the identities of the vehicle owners.

      Now, pair this analysis with actual identities (to which law enforcement agencies have access), and LEOs can figure out where someone with outstanding fees/fines/warrants is likely to be and when, based on where/when his/her known associates gather.

      It’s not at all fundamentally different from social network analysis based on e-mail metadata. You can tell who is friends with whom — and who are the central figures among a loose circle of compatriots — even with no identifying or contextual information.

        sequester in reply to Archer. | February 2, 2016 at 7:18 pm

        There is a little hiccup here called the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act: 18 USC § 2721. The law enforcement exception reads:

        “For use by any government agency, including any court or law enforcement agency, in carrying out its functions, or any private person or entity acting on behalf of a Federal, State, or local agency in carrying out its functions”.

        The Courts will decide, if the issue is raised whether such gathering is a normal “function” of a law enforcement agency. It is somewhat analogous to the NSA phone call gathering metadata case.

The “stakeout” feature offers “predictive analysis” to determine all kinds of things like who individuals associate with and whether or not they might collude with other criminals.

“Other criminals”…does this mean it will only be used on people with a criminal record?

Or, are they just assuming everyone is a criminal. 🙂

    If you park in the same block as a known criminal, you will listed as “associating” with that criminal. Don’t do it twice.

      A half-decent lawyer will subpoena ALL the data related to your plate number, and present a perfectly reasonable alternate scenario, such as: while you frequent the same area as a known criminal, your plate is often seen all over town in the presence of these others (call them “a”, “b”, and “c”), and “b” lives across the street from said criminal. The other areas the four plates in question (“a”, “b”, “c”, and yours) frequent are at/near the residences of the other three owners — and the criminal is not known to frequent the other three locations.

      Ergo, it’s more likely you’re meeting with a few friends and you take turns hosting the gathering, and one location just happens to be near a known criminal.

      Coincidence, reasonable doubt, and casting the entire data-gathering operation in a negative (and possibly unconstitutional, per the First Amendment) light, all in one neat argument.

        A half-decent prosecutor can convince a half-stupid jury that the half-decent lawyer’s argument is too complex to be believed.

    The Friendly Grizzly in reply to rinardman. | February 1, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    The law enforcement outfits sees everyone as a criminal-in-the-making, and has since they started calling us “civilians”. We are “the other” and are to be watched.

Insufficiently Sensitive | February 1, 2016 at 4:01 pm

Vigilant Solutions is offering its services as – Vigilantes. Taking the law AND the profits into its own closely-held hands.

Tar, feathers, and out of town on a rail. A nice thin one.

The Friendly Grizzly | February 1, 2016 at 4:28 pm

This is freedom-loving TEXAS doing this? Sounds more fitting for Massachusetts.

I’m sure the police won’t have any problem with citizens taking note of their plate numbers and noting where they go and what they do…

Not only police but anyone in government will have access to this data and be able to track/stalk anyone whether they have broken any law or not.All computer systems can be and are hacked so potentially the information can go anywhere.The only sure protection is never collecting it.

EFF did a thing on this awhile back.

The other problem is that the data becomes public record.

Want to know where someone is? Just get the data. Wanna stalk someone? Just get the date. Wanna track a car so you can tell when people aren’t home? Get the data.

This is a nightmare.

Technology will save us.