A number of malls and mini-malls across California are reportedly sharing the customer’s license plate information with a contractor that has links to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), giving the agency the ability to track certain vehicles and its owner’s location, revealed a report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The report claimed real estate group Irvine Company, which owns 46 shopping centers across the state, uses a private surveillance tech company called Vigilant Solutions, which provides license plate data to over 1,000 law enforcement and government agencies, insurance companies and even debt collectors. If police are looking for a certain vehicle, the system would flag it for them.
It is important to mention that ICE, which has come under fire following the Trump administration’s draconian “zero-tolerance” policy against immigrants, finalized its contract with the tech company several months ago.
“In December 2017, ICE signed a contract with Vigilant Solutions to access its license-plate reader database,” read the EFF report. “Data from Irvine Company’s malls directly feeds into Vigilant Solutions’ database system, according to the policy. This could mean that ICE can spy on mall visitors without their knowledge and receive near-real-time alerts when a targeted vehicle is spotted in a shopping center’s parking lot.”
Given President Donald Trump’s ongoing crackdown on immigration, under which ICE officials have been reportedly detaining immigrants regardless of their criminal history and visa status, the fact that they have access to license plate data is deeply unsettling.
“By conducting this location surveillance and working with Vigilant Solutions, the [Irvine Company] is putting not only immigrants at risk, but invading the privacy of its customers by allowing a third-party to hold onto their data indefinitely,” EFF added.
However, the real estate claimed the data was not being exploited.
“Irvine Company is a customer of Vigilant Solutions. Vigilant employs ALPR technology at our three Orange County regional shopping centers,” it said in a statement to The Verge. “Vigilant is required by contract, and have assured us, that ALPR data collected at these locations is only shared with local police departments as part of their efforts to keep the local community safe.”
Meanwhile, ICE also asserted it was “not seeking to build a license plate reader database, and will not collect nor contribute any data to a national public or private database.”
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