Privacy SOS

License plate reader industry produces error-ridden propaganda video

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The license plate reader corporation Vigilant Solutions wants you to know that the big bad ACLU has been saying untrue things about its number one product. The video embedded above, hosted on the company's website, constructs a straw man to represent civil libertarian arguments about unregulated license plate reader usage, and then clumsily — without a shred of evidence to support its claims — tries to demolish it.

Vigilant Solutions has a major stake in the license plate reader business. It operates a private database containing upwards of one billion records showing the location history of innocent motorists nationwide. Law enforcement both contribute information to and obtain information from this private database. If the technology continues to remain unregulated in most parts of the country, and as the tools proliferate among law enforcement, the government and companies like Vigilant will be able to warrantlessly track our movements with the click of a mouse. 

Among the ridiculous claims made in the video above is that 'no personal information' is collected by license plate readers. This is the same argument the NSA makes when it says that its phone surveillance program doesn't collect personal information, simply phone numbers. But our phone and license plate numbers are obviously highly personal, and just one click away from treasure troves of personal data about us telling the government where we live and work, and innumerable other details about our lives. 

The ACLU's report on license plate readers — 'You Are Being Tracked' — has made an impact nationally by educating the public and lawmakers about the serious threat the technology poses, if it is used without laws regulating how police and private companies can retain and use location data on hundreds of millions of innocent people. That's why companies like Vigilant Solutions are promoting dishonest propaganda pieces like the one above.

If you want to ensure that law enforcement cannot collect a dossier showing everywhere you've ever driven, take action to urge the Massachusetts state legislature to pass sensible privacy reform. Police should be able to use new technologies to help them do their jobs more efficiently and safely, but not at the expense of our right to be left alone. 

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.