How Cities Are Fighting Secret Surveillance

A local government. A powerful private entity with controversial technology. A secret deal. This time, in New Orleans.

On Tuesday, The Verge ’s Russell Brandom revealed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has purchased access to an extensive national database of license plate reader information from a private company called Vigilant Solutions, which allows the agency to retrace the movement of a license plate for the last five years. ICE can also get alerts when a particular license plate pops up on the radar in real time. Vigilant collected this data, in part, by partnering with local law enforcement.

“Surveillance technology is a big business, and companies who build it have an interest in collecting data from one customer and making it available to their other customers,” Cagle said.“I think one of the key lessons here is that surveillance that happens locally doesn’t necessarily stay local.”

These technologies are multiplying, in part, through hush-hush agreements and lack of regulation at the local level. But cities are starting to catch up. In January, Culver City in California held a city council hearing to purchase an of Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR) system from Vigilant worth half a million dollars. Many residents were unhappy.

“This is a solution searching for a problem,” Local blogger Warren Szewczyk reported a military veteran saying at the meeting. “We don’t need to change our neighborhoods into war zones. “

In the end, the council declined to vote on the acquisitions, asking instead for a clear policy around the technologies before they vote on approving them.

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