Privacy SOS

Private company hoards license plate data, plans to create database with “billions” of records

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Did you know that a private company which hoards detailed information about your driving habits also has plans to create the largest private sector law enforcement database in the world, by combining plate reads with commercial databases, face recognition technology and more?

Vigilant Video is a private corporation. It maintains a database called the National Vehicle Location Service (NVLS), containing hundreds of millions of data points showing the travel patterns of millions of people in the United States. The data in the system comes from a variety of sources including government agencies, other companies like tow truck and repo firms, and a fleet of company cars that drives around sucking up license plate information on our streets and in our neighborhoods. 

What happens with all of that data?

The company presumably sells it to other private companies, and grants law enforcement free access to it. No strings attached. If you have any enemies with a badge, you might want to consider getting a bicycle. Anyone with a police (or even corporate) log-on ID for the NVLS system can pull up increasingly detailed records about everywhere you’ve driven in recent history. No warrant or even reasonable suspicion required.

Check out the drop down menu at this registration page to see if police departments in your area are signed up. In Massachusetts, both the State Police and the Boston Police are on that list, among other departments. Federal law enforcement agencies like ICE and the FBI are also on it, as are many different branches of the US military.

Vigilant Video sells law enforcement a backend data management system called LEARN. The company has plans to expand that data system well beyond just license plate tracking and mapping.

Surpassing the challenges of a national LPR database via NVLS, our future roadmap plans an extensive integration between LPR data and public records, a facial recognition platform, and ‘leaps and bounds’ expansion of LEARN which seamlessly ties together all data sources. We are on schedule to provide the most advanced Law Enforcement criminal database loaded with billions of records — a universal data system with one common goal in mind — making it easier for Law Enforcement to ‘Catch the Bad Guy’.

There’s just one problem: all of this private intelligence hoarding and data mining completely skirts our privacy laws. And private companies aren’t bound by the Fourth Amendment.

Here in Massachusetts we are prepared to fix at least a part of this problem. Our License Plate Reader Privacy Act would bar Massachusetts law enforcement from retaining plate data on innocent people for longer than a couple of days, and forbid police from sharing that information with private companies.

Take action now to support that legislation. Unless, that is, you want Officer Joe to know where you were last night — and last week, and last month, and last year…

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.