Shopping Centers Accused of Spying for ICE - NBC 7 San Diego

Shopping Centers Accused of Spying for ICE

It is a form of mass surveillance in which cameras capture images of license plates, convert the plate into plaintext characters and append a time, date and GPS location

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    Shopping Centers Accused of Spying for ICE

    The automated system scans license plates for public safety, but the data is sometimes shared with various government agencies. NBC 7's Bridget Naso reports from La Jolla.

    (Published Tuesday, July 10, 2018)

    Personal information is being gathered from license plates at shopping malls and shared with U.S. Immigration and Customs officials, a privacy rights advocacy group claims.

    NBC 7 Investigates has been reporting on the technology called automated license plate recognition for more than two years.

    It is a form of mass surveillance in which cameras capture images of license plates, convert the plate into plaintext characters and append a time, date and GPS location. This data is usually fed into a database.

    According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation property management giant, The Irvine Company is now using the same technology company contracted by police, Vigilant Solutions. And EFF says they found information that shows Vigilant Solutions is sharing the data with other customers.

    Irvine Company spokesperson, Scott Starkey told NBC7 in a statement:

    “Irvine Company is a customer of Vigilant Solutions. Vigilant employs LPR technology at our three Orange County regional shopping centers. Vigilant is required by contract, and have assured us, that LPR data collected at these locations is only shared with local police departments as part of their efforts to keep the local community safe.”

    The Irvine Police Department also responded. In a statement to NBC 7, spokesperson Kim Mohr said:  

    "The use of legally permissible Automated License Plate Readers is a practice that has helped enhance the safety of our community. We have made numerous arrests thanks to this technology while respecting the privacy rights of the public.

    The Irvine Police Department uses this information for our own investigations and never shares the information."

    In a previous NBC7 investigates report, Electronic Frontier Foundation showed us documentation they obtained from San Diego Police which confirms their department shares license plate scans with more than "600" agencies, including other police departments, sheriff's offices and federal agencies like the U.S. Border Patrol.

    NBC 7 Investigates has reached out to Immigration and Customs Enforcement about the use of data collected from automated license plate recognition systems like Vigilant and are awaiting a response.