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Trump's Immigration Crackdown Means ICE Will Track Your License Plate Even if You're Not an Immigrant

Think immigration crackdowns don't affect you? You're wrong.

Axel Heimken/dpa/picture-alliance/NewscomAxel Heimken/dpa/picture-alliance/NewscomImmigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) now has access to a national database of license plates, allowing it to track millions of cars on a daily basis regardless of the owners' immigration status.

A no-bid contract awarded in December by the Department of Homeland Security will allow ICE "access to a commercially available License Plate Reader (LPR) database." Though the contract recipient is not identified in public documents, The Verge (which first uncovered the contract's existence) reports that ICE will use a database built and maintained by Vigilant Solutions, a California-based company that partners with law enforcement agencies across the country to collect scans of law-abiding citizens' plates.

Each snapshot included in the database includes the license plate number, the attached vehicle's make and model, the state of registration, the GPS coordinates, and a timestamp, according to a "privacy impact assessment" released by DHS. License plate scanners are often attached to police cars, but some jurisdictions have them at fixed locations, including toll booths, bridges, and even ordinary road signs.

"Some LPR systems also capture within the image the environment surrounding a vehicle, which may include drivers and passengers," the assessment notes. "Information can be collected from all vehicles that pass the camera."

Despite the obvious privacy issues, the DHS assessment concludes that it's fine for ICE to have access to the database, in the name of "public safety and national security."

Automated license plate readers have been a point of concern for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) since 2013, when the organization released a report based on public records requests submitted to 600 police departments. The ACLU said the scanners were "becoming a tool for mass routine location tracking and surveillance."

While license plate scanners can be used for legitimate law enforcement functions as part of criminal investigations, the ACLU says those instances account for "a tiny fraction" of the millions of license plate records tracking drivers, most of whom have no idea that they're in the database.

The DHS contract states that "ICE is neither seeking to build nor contribute to a national public or private LPR database." But the immigration cops are happy to put the existing database to use.

According to The Verge, ICE will be able to query the database for five years' worth of data, enough to track nearly every movement that a target might have made during that time. Agents will also get immediate email alerts when a particular license plate is spotted again.

"Knowing the previous location(s) of a vehicle can help determine the whereabouts of subjects of criminal investigations or priority aliens to facilitate their interdiction and removal," the privacy assessment explains. "In some cases, when other leads have gone cold, the availability of commercial LPR data may be the only viable way to find a subject."

The Verge also reports that DHS experimented with giving ICE access to license plate scanner databases in 2012, but the Obama administration ultimately backed away from the idea because of privacy concerns. The Trump administration, which has made it a priority to apprehend and deport illegal immigrants—even ones who pose no apparent risk to public safety or national security—seems to have no such qualms.

To be clear, the national LPR database maintained by Vigilant Solutions does not discriminate between cars owned by illegal immigrants and those owned by legal residents of the United States. For that matter, it does not discriminate between vehicles owned by people suspected of committing any crime and everyone else. It's a blanket surveillance tool that tracks an estimated 100 million people every month as they commute, run errands, and visit friends. It even covers cars that are just parked on their owners' driveways.

This database shouldn't exist at all, whether or not ICE uses it. In the meantime, millions of innocent Americans can have their vehicles tracked by the immigration police—whether they are immigrants or not—for no reason at all.

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  • Rich||

    it does not discriminate between vehicles owned by people suspected of committing any crime and everyone else.

    IOW, it tracks potential terrorists.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Damn. I was hoping to, you know, NOT live in a Panopticon.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    You have 5 cats. You already sort of live in a Panopticon.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Wow! You mean large powerful central governments are intrusive? That's just crazy talk. Government is just a word for snooping we do together.

  • Dick Puller, Attorney at Law||

    I'm really starting to hate libertarians. First, they provoke social conditions that are only addressable by authoritarian government policies, then they whine bitterly when the authoritarian policies materialize. You know what? I really don't give a fuck anymore. I just hope when they get around to building the gulags, they throw the libertarians in them first.

  • Jordan||

    If only those damn libertarians would step aside and let Democrats and Republicans have a chance at governance.

  • Dick Puller, Attorney at Law||

    If only there were any but superficial differences between Libertarians and the current ruling parties, your sarcasm might actually sting.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    Well, there seems to be enough of a difference that they are hated by both.

  • ||

    If only there were any but superficial differences between Libertarians and the current ruling parties

    If you can't see any difference between Libertarians and the current ruling parties, are you able to see any difference, anywhere, between any parties whatsoever? What parties would those be? Green and Peace and Freedom?

  • Brightly||

    Well the libertarian party did put up a candidate this last election that was fine with the state forcing bakers to bake cakes in situations they found objectionable. Meanwhile the Trump administration has put in briefs in favor of religious liberty.

    Libertarians. Meh.

    /yes, I'm trolling you.... but seriously. Was Johnson and an old neocon crony really the best you could do?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    This guy gets it.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    It's nice that you are finally coming clean. Yessss, let the hate flow through you, Dick Puller. Also, surprised: no one.

  • Texasmotiv||

    I've read this 5 times and can't figuore out what the fuck you are trying to say. Can someone translate?

  • Texasmotiv||

    Are you saying America is too libertarian?

  • ||

    He's saying Libertarians are to blame for government authoritarianism, because by opposing it they make it necessary. Or something.

  • Dick Puller, Attorney at Law||

    It's pretty obvious. First, libertarians will promote policies like looking the other way when massive numbers of people illegally entering the country, creating social upheaval. When the public gets fed up and demands the government do something about it, the government responds with the only tools it has available. Then the libertarians start in the "Help! Help! I'm being oppressed!" routine. In other words, the failure of government to perform it's basic duties and prevent problems leads to later oppressive policies to counter them.

    That isn't liberty, that's anarcho-tyranny.

  • ||

    Soo . . . you're saying that immigration policy in recent decades has largely been shaped by Libertarians? Are Libertarian calls for drug legalization also responsible for the Drug War? I'm just trying to get a gauge of how much power we really have here - you know, for planning purposes.

  • Dick Puller, Attorney at Law||

    Ha-ha. Yes, actually, they have influenced it, or at least provided the rationale for promoting it. And while libertarians as a group may be small, they're certainly capable of acting in coalition with other groups to achieve their ends. And have. Pleading "powerless" when endorsing the same policies the major parties are promoting rings rather hollow.

  • ||

    Pleading "powerless" when endorsing the same policies the major parties are promoting rings rather hollow.

    Libertarians are endorsing the same immigration policies as both the Democrats and the Republicans?

    Can you elaborate?

    What is the other party that is advocating the truly different point of view? The Greens? Constitution? American Independent?

    Or are they all the same as Libertarian, too?

  • Myshkin78||

    Maybe if you don't subscribe to the authoritarian Republican worldview then you're siding with the authoritarian Democrat worldview, and thus... supporting the authoritarian Republican worldview?

    I dunno, best guess I could come up with.

  • Greg F||

    I'm really starting to hate libertarians.


    I'm calling BS on this.

    First, they provoke social conditions that are only addressable by authoritarian government policies, then they whine bitterly when the authoritarian policies materialize.


    Provoke? And "only addressable by authoritarian government"? Always amazes me when people project.

  • DajjaI||

    Security is the basis for freedom. If you're not doing anything wrong then you should have nothing to worry about.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    ROFL

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    If you have nothing to hide, you likely have nothing worth showing.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I think it's safe to say that everything you do is and has been tracked staring around October of 2001.

  • Rhywun||

    Yeah, this is like internet "security". You're better off just assuming that everyone already has all your passwords and credit card details.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Even if they don't have my actual credit card numbers, I definitely assume a team of neckbeards over at the NSA know all of my porn browsing habits.

  • Myshkin78||

    They know mine. That's how they find the good stuff.

  • ||

    Heh. 2A arguments usually include a feature about gun owners being scared about being put in a gun database and, subsequently, would have their guns taken away. As long as I can remember this was almost never the case. Everybody *knew* they were in an IRS 'stuff' database and bought the guns out of fear that the IRS was gonna come and take their stuff.

    Plenty of them think I'm crazy for allowing my phone to read/store my fingerprint. Like Google wouldn't be able to steal my mortal soul without it.

  • silver.||

    Getting my clearance required me to give all 10 from about 7 different angles. I better wear gloves.

  • Jordan||

    I wonder if California would be on board with this if you told them immigrants are bringing straws with them.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    Beware the authority you give to government. They will use it well beyond the reason they asked in the first place.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    I often compare Drumpf's America to Germany in the 1930s, but in some ways what we're dealing with today is even worse. Hitler didn't have the technology to track our movement with such precision.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Even worse than Hitler. That's something I hadn't considered...

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    I haven't heard liberals, not too much of anyone for that matter, really complain about government gaining that technology. As a nation we don't seem to care about domestic surveillance, or data collection.

  • ||

    To be clear, the national LPR database maintained by Vigilant Solutions does not discriminate between cars owned by illegal immigrants and those owned by legal residents of the United States. For that matter, it does not discriminate between vehicles owned by people suspected of committing any crime and everyone else. It's a blanket surveillance tool that tracks an estimated 100 million people every month as they commute, run errands, and visit friends. It even covers cars that are just parked on their owners' driveways.

    Technically, it doesn't even necessarily distinguish between vehicles at all. At least not in most states. I'm aware that some states keep the plates with the car but every state I've bought/sold in the plates stayed with me.

    Also, is the 'tiny fraction' really a problem? It would seem that stations are submitting lots of inquiries and generally failing to find/track people and/or only tracking the tiny fraction that are actually criminals. It's not like the query immediately converts to a warrant. I mean, I know it's a waste of time and money, but it is what license plates were made for and wasting time running database queries is much preferable to having LEOs out shooting black CCW holders.

  • ||

    it is what license plates were made for

    No - it specifically isn't. Just as a major objection to the issuance of Social Security numbers that they would become de facto Citizen Tracking Numbers was quelled by the promise that that would never happen, the suggestion that people should have to register cars "for their own safety" was supported by a promise that they were never going to be used for law enforcement purposes. To suggest otherwise was unwarranted paranoia.

  • Rich||

    the suggestion that people should have to register cars "for their own safety"

    "No, thank you."

  • ||

    Do you regularly make it a habit of accepting promises in lieu of reality?

    I mean, when the government issues you a plate, says you must have it on your car, have to regularly update the sticker on it, and can't otherwise fuck with it, do you generally assume that it's because you own the plate and/or that they aren't using the plate specifically to track the car?

  • ||

    I got the impression that you were saying that this is all OK because tracking citizens for police purposes is the whole point of license plates, despite the fact that license plates were sold to people by telling them they wouldn't be used this way.

    Does that mean it's just peachy if the government installs a tracker on you to monitor all of your movements and listen in on all of your conversations as long as that was their intent when they installed it, regardless of whether that's what they told you or whether they gave you an option about it?

  • ||

    I got the impression that you were saying that this is all OK because tracking citizens for police purposes is the whole point of license plates, despite the fact that license plates were sold to people by telling them they wouldn't be used this way.

    I guess I wasn't around for the who 'for their own safety' part of the debate. I don't see how you don't construe 'for their own safety' as 'so we can track it down (when things we don't like happen)'. It seems kinda common knowledge, since forever, that if you don't want your car to be tracked, you remove or swap the plates.

    I'm not necessarily saying I like the idea that we have to buy plates so that we can be tracked but that the fainting-couch routine in response to the fact that they're tracking cars with plates seems excessive. Especially in the day and age when phone and meta data are more specific to you, follow you around even outside the car, phones aren't issued by the government to people, etc.

  • ||

    phones aren't issued by the government to people

    A crucial distinction slipped into the casual list of similarities.

    Pointing out that Libertarians are still uncomfortable with ubiquitous involuntary government surveillance is not exactly "fainting couch" level stuff. It's more like "gee, look how both major parties are still pretty shitty on issues important to Libertarians."

    You seem to be saying "you know that ubiquitous involuntary government surveillance is happening, therefore stop complaining about it." Which is a position, but not a very libertarian one.

  • silver.||

    "You seem to be saying "you know that ubiquitous involuntary government surveillance is happening, therefore stop complaining about it." Which is a position, but not a very libertarian one."

    I know a lot of people who are uncomfortable with the surveillance state who've just given up. Paul. above commented that:

    I think it's safe to say that everything you do is and has been tracked staring around October of 2001.

    It's a defeatist attitude, but I understand it. The deck is overwhelmingly stacked against us. Libertarians are a very pure party, and that's one of the things that's so good about it, but it probably means we'll never get elected unless we can flex a little.

    I agree more with you than mad.casual because I can either not have a cell phone or have an ancient flip phone with rudimentary or no data/GPS/browser. It would be extremely impractical, but it's possible. I can't drive without a license plate. I can potentially avoid the roads with the systems, but maybe not.

    Incidentally, I first saw license plate scanners on unmarked cars in my city. About 8 of them, pointed in every direction. I finally saw (one) of their uses, which was booting somebody with 3 outstanding parking tickets. I presume they also scan for warrants and stolen cars. I've no idea what I'm supposed to do about that. I'm sure they keep every KB of that data and know more about where I was on certain days that I do.

  • ||

    I can't drive without a license plate. I can potentially avoid the roads with the systems, but maybe not.

    I can find license plates lying along the side of just about any major highway for free. If it really came down to it, there's plenty of long term parking at all kinds of businesses with license plates waiting to swap. However, if they know your license plate number, odds are they know the rest of the details of the car (which is kinda the point) and, presumably, you know why they're after you and/or your car. Rather unlike your phone that you don't register at the DMV.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    ""was supported by a promise that they were never going to be used for law enforcement purposes. To suggest otherwise was unwarranted paranoia.""

    No one is better at bait and switch than the government.

  • ||

    No one is better at bait and switch than the government.

    This is so true, and what non-libertarians often fail to get is that there doesn't need to be any intention involved for this to be true. The people who originally made these promises may have actually been sincere.

    A generation later, the whole original debate is lost in the fog of history, and what you have is a new crisis (and illegal immigration is a real one goddammit!) and a new generation of politicians screaming for new ways to deal with it, and inevitably you get "well look, we've got this tool right here that we're not even using!"

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) now has access to a national database of license plates, allowing it to track millions of cars on a daily basis regardless of the owners' immigration status.

    It's almost as if those crazy anti-clinton right-wingers in the 90s had a point when they thought the Census was asking too many personal questions.

  • Rich||

    OK, I'll kick off the Lynx:

    Men in France could be fined €350 (US$435) if they follow women in the street ... or ask for their phone numbers, according to a draft proposal to combat "sexual contempt."

    "Follow women in the street"? So much for female police officers.

    "Ask for their phone numbers"? So much for female business owners.

  • ||

    "Follow women in the street"? So much for female police officers.

    Well, the Muslim Indian more culturally diverse men will be once again comforted by the fact that their wives must walk behind them.

  • Curly4||

    The states have done that for a long time. As you drive anywhere just look and see the traffic cams. At almost every traffic light has a camera that can take a picture of the driver and the front licence plate. Thus all ICE or any other government agency has to do is to get hold of that data base and there you are. "I know where you are".
    States have used this for a long time to keep track of who is going to some of the "elite" subdivisions. Also every highway patrol car has cameras that can be use to take pictures of tags on cars anywhere the patrolman (not P C) meets them or is following the car.

  • ||

    States have been doing a lot of things to their citizens for a long time. Not all of them are desirable.

  • ||

    Right, but this ship was launched under the call sign 'U.S.S. Tracking Tag', has long since sailed, and there are other more advanced and threatening ships in the water.

    We can't let them use license plates to track people because liberty sounds even more kooky than being against the ban on raw milk.

  • ||

    Our resources for calling out tyrannous behavior are not limited. I can complain about license plate tracking and less than one second later I can pivot to complaining about milk regulations.

    Complaining incessantly: it's what Libertarians do.

  • ThomasD||

    Anyone who thinks outfits like Redflex aren't selling to any government agency willing to buy is hopeless.

  • Joirep||

    How do we address this sort of snooping since its not unconstitutional for somebody to witness your location out in public? Should the gathering of such information be illegal unless done with a warrant?

  • silver.||

    I'm drawing a blank. Your argument is compelling. Even if it was egregiously unconstitutional, it's possible that we still couldn't do anything other than make them hide it like they do with the NSA.

  • Mark22||

    We could dispense with all this Orwellian surveillance technology if people simply agreed to document based citizenship verification, like other developed nations have.

    Unfortunately, Democrats keep torpedoing that because their constituents are apparently too stupid and ignorant to get a government issued identification card.

  • Joirep||

    Idk if you're being sarcarstic or just an altright moron. I've been a US citizen for almost 30 years and never had an issue identifying myself as a U.S. citizen when the government required it. I don't need an extra ID to prove my citizenship to a trigger happy thug with a license to kill.

  • silver.||

    I think he's saying that your primary identification (driver's license, probably) would inherently indicate that you're a citizen. Theoretically illegal immigrants can't get licenses, although that differed by state last I heard. Maybe it's been rectified, maybe it hasn't.

    Perhaps Democrats are advocating that folks should not need to carry any sort of legal photo ID? I don't know. I wouldn't be without mine except when jogging. They eliminated the need to provide anything physical to vote in my state, but it was brought back a few years later.

  • Joirep||

    Why does someone need to prove that your a citizen for traveling in public? Do you not see how stupid that requirement is? I dont need to prove my citizenship to be out in public.

  • silver.||

    I actually agree with you. I find it equally stupid that I can't carry a concealed weapon without jumping through a bunch of hoops, and I apparently have to identify myself to police (but not another word). Our power-tripping paramilitary police are a serious problem.

  • Joirep||

    Carry your gun and stop worrying if your neighbors roofer has been given federal government permission to be on your neighbors roof doing work.

  • silver.||

    I'm not the OP .. I don't have any strong feelings about immigration.

  • silver.||

    Gotta know if you're a legal citizen so we can be sure you're paying your taxes! It's very important that you relinquish your money to the thugs with guns. They need tanks and hookers and blow, you know.

  • Joirep||

    Its not even about feeding the machine. It just would be alot easier for everyone if the government allowed undocumented workers to be documented.

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    Why does someone need to prove that your a citizen for traveling in public?

    You mean like a driver's license or a passport?

  • Verbum Vincet||

    I'm a natural-born citizen with a driver's license and current tags. I maintain my vehicle, I drive safely and I know where I'm going at all times. I don't break the law and so I have nothing to hide. There's really nothing to fear! I'm sure that once the immigration problem is solved, we'll get rid of most of the surveillance in the US. It will no longer serve any purpose and it'll be too expensive to maintain. If anything, it'll be shifted to the beautiful new border wall, facing externally! The government consists of red-blooded Americans who love freedom as much as any of us, but sometimes they know things we don't. Since they have a better grasp of true threats, we have to trust them - if they say they need these non-invasive tools, then I'll take them at their word!

    Basically, nothing positive is going to happen until we push on with an unprecedented crackdown. We could require each citizen to carry an internal passport at all times. Until that time, I'm willing to give up most anything to get these illegals out of the country. I'd even be OK with a year-long suspension of the Bill of Rights, in full! As long as they're here, nothing's truly fair and the economy is screwed. I'm beyond tired of having to sleep with one eye open! Just wait and see: once they're gone, we'll bounce back overnight!

  • Liberty Lover||

    So what is new? The purpose of license plates has always been so the cops can track you, it is why you have plates on the outside of your vehicle. You see they have these things called radios in their squad cars, and use them to call a central data base the government maintains, so they have an idea of who they are stopping by looking up who owns the automobile. That the Feds now use it may be an expansion, but it is not "new". Driving is considered a privilege, not a right, so if you don't like it, don't own a car and drive. Ride the bus!

  • colorblindkid||

    I'd be a little more worried if this didn't already happen all the time. Don't drive anywhere if you don't want to be tracked.

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    It's a little late to the party to be complaining about the government "tracking" your license plate when that was the whole fucking point of registering your vehicle in the first place, decades ago.

  • buybuydandavis||

    "Think illegal immigration doesn't affect you? You're wrong."

  • prediksifajar||

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