Enlarge /. An employee of the repo company Relentless Recovery in Cleveland, Ohio, puts a car equipped with automatic license plate recognition cameras out of the garage before looking for cars that must be taken back on April 30, 2018.
U.S. customs and border guards can track everyone's cars across the country thanks to huge amounts of automated license plate scanner data – a new report reveals this – and CBP didn't need a single warrant to do so. Instead, the agency did exactly what hundreds of other companies and investigators do: direct purchase access to commercial databases.
TechPrunch reports that CBP has been buying access to Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) databases since 2017, and the agency says bluntly that there is no real way for Americans to avoid tracking their movements.
"CBP cannot provide timely information about license plate readings that come from various sources that are beyond its control," the agency wrote in its latest privacy review (PDF). "The only way to opt out of such surveillance is to avoid the affected area, which can be extremely difficult and generally unrealistic."
When theinformationsuperhighway's CBC spokesman Matthew Dyman was asked to comment, he said to the website, "How do you disable a license plate reader? Can I disable speed cameras here in DC? "
Another spokesman told Vice Motherboard that the agency uses commercial ALPR databases for tasks such as "locating and arresting criminal investigations, illegal activities, or foreigners who have entered the United States illegally."
Earlier reports from Vice led the website to the conclusion that CBP is likely to enter into a contract with a company called Vigilant Solutions, but the agency would neither confirm nor reject Vice's questions, and the company did not return Vice's requests for comments.
Get a warrant
Thanks to the U.S. Constitution and decades of jurisdiction, there are rules about what law enforcement agencies can collect directly. For example, in 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that police and other investigators need a search warrant to get a person's location data for cell phones.
The arrest warrant procedure also allows courts to suppress law enforcement requests for information abroad. A judge pushed back the 2017 Department of Justice's attempt to get records of more than 1.3 million IP addresses visiting a website that organized, for example, a protest against President Donald Trump.
However, massive, privately owned databases seem to offer a convenient end to the warrant process. CBP is already buying cell phone location data, although it would not be legally able to directly save it in large quantities. The police also buy hacked and breached data from third parties that they can use to track and identify people in a way that would otherwise have required a warrant.
Although hundreds of jurisdictions across the country use automated plate scanning technology, fewer than 20 states have laws of any kind in their books that govern the collection, use, and storage of ALPR data. Even fewer of these laws determine which private entities can collect ALPR data and what can be done with this information. The software also seems to be getting more detailed almost every day.
In theory, CBP only has the authority to operate within 100 miles of the U.S. border. However, the data he bought can allow him to track a specific license plate practically anywhere in the country.
Public-private muddy water
CBP writes in the privacy review that the ALPR data it has access to comes from "both public and private sources", including but not limited to "private companies (e.g. parking garages), local governments (e.g. . B. toll station cameras) ". Law enforcement agencies and financial institutions. "
The technology itself continues to spread – not only for companies and private investigators, but also for individual consumers. A company called Rekor began marketing consumer-grade ALPR technology for home surveillance in January of this year. In April, Ars reported on a leaked survey that revealed that Amazon circulated some of its customers the idea of ALPR integration in ring surveillance cameras.
Ring now has more than 1,400 active partnerships with local law enforcement agencies across the country. Police in these cities and counties can request footage from homeowners using ring surveillance products. Adding plate scanning software to something as widespread as doorbell cameras would then give thousands of law enforcement agencies potential access to this type of data, regardless of the laws that states have in law enforcement agencies' use of ALPR books .