A civil rights organization fears federal immigration officials may use sensitive personal information gleaned from vehicle license plates to threaten civil rights and liberties without proper safeguards.
The northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently filed a suit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) asking that the agency be ordered to reveal how it is using the data obtained by surveillance technology that scans license plates.
ACLU, which filed suit May 23 in U.S. District Court for Northern District of California, San Francisco-Oakland Division, wants ICE to comply with provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The suit centers on surveillance technology known as the Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR), which uses cameras, image processing and a database to "recognize and store licenses associated with date, time and location at the time of recognition."
ALPR is used, according to the ACLU, to "track the movements of drivers on America's roads." Millions of license numbers are collected each month and shared among law enforcement agencies, the organization claimed in its filing.
It is also used by private companies,and repossession services "to collect data on millions of drivers on the street, in apartment complexes, at shopping centers, and large employee parking lots," the filing said.
The FOIA request to ICE asked for records on contracts between ICE and the database companies, training material, privacy policies and other guidance on appropriate use by agents.
The court is asked to order ICE to release all the records and declare unlawful its failure to do so up to now.
Vasudha Talla, staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, said, "We believe ICE is collecting the data to use for civil immigration enforcement. We are requesting the records so we can better answer that question."
ICE did not provide a substantive response to our request, Talla told the Northern California Record.
"We believe that aggregation of this sensitive personal information into databases without safeguards threatens core civil rights and liberties," Talla said. "We are seeking records to find out the policies and procedures that ICE has established for itself in using this data and whether it will be monitoring its officers’ compliance with those rules."