Private Corp Gives Cops Free License Plate Scanners in Exchange For Driver Data

As hard enough it is to believe that law enforcement is essentially being set up to act as hired muscle for a private corporation, the ALPR scheme is just the tip of the iceberg. Not settling for the money extorted from hapless Texas drivers, Vigilant is seeking private information on citizens from the police agencies it is planning to do business with.

“Buried in the fine print of the contract with Vigilant is a clause that says the company also get to keep a copy of all the license-plate data collected by the agency, even after the contract ends. According the company's usage and privacy policy, Vigilant ‘retains LPR data as long as it has commercial value.' Vigilant can sell or license that information to other law enforcement bodies and potentially use it for other purposes. (See clarification at bottom.)

In early December 2015, Vigilant issued a press release bragging that Guadalupe County had used the systems to collect on more than 4,500 warrants between April and December 2015. In January 2016, the City of Kyle signed an identical deal with Vigilant. Soon after, Guadalupe County upgraded the contract to allow Vigilant to dispatch its own contractors to collect on capias warrants.

Update: Buzzfeed has published an in-depth report on how police in Port Arthur, Texas also use Vigilant Solutions ALPR technology to collect fines. 

Alarmingly, in December, Vigilant also quietly issued an apology on its website for a major error:

During the second week of December, as part of its Warrant Redemption Program, Vigilant Solutions sent several warrant notices – on behalf of our law enforcement partners – in error to citizens across the state of Texas. A technical error caused us to send warrant notices to the wrong recipients.

These types of mistakes are not acceptable and we deeply apologize to those who received the warrant correspondence in error and to our law enforcement customers.

Vigilant is right: this is not acceptable. Yet, the company has not disclosed the extent of the error, how many people were affected, how much money was collected that shouldn’t have been, and what it’s doing to inform and make it up to the people affected. Instead, the company simply stated that it had “conducted a thorough review of the incident and have implemented several internal policies.”

We’re unlikely to get answers from the government agencies who signed these contracts. To access Vigilant’s powerful online data systems, agencies agree not to disparage the company or even to talk to the press without the company’s permission:

From Vigilant Solutions LEARN-NVLS User Agreement

You shall not create, publish, distribute, or permit any written, electronically transmitted or other form of publicity material that makes reference to the LEARN LPR Database Server or this Agreement without first submitting the material to Vigilant and receiving written consent from Vigilant thereto…

You agree not to use proprietary materials or information in any manner that is disparaging. This prohibition is specifically intended to preclude you from cooperating or otherwise agreeing to allow photographs or screenshots to be taken by any member of the media without the express consent of LEARN-NVLS. You also agree not to voluntarily provide ANY information, including interviews, related to LEARN products or its services to any member of the media without the express written consent of LEARN-NVLS.”

Source: Electronic Frontier Foundation, Activist Post




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