Photo: AP

The Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency will soon have the ability to track billions of license plates across the U.S., according to a new report from The Verge.

As part of a contract finalized this month, ICE will gain access to a nationwide license plate recognition database from Vigilant Solutions, which Verge describes as the “leading network for license plate recognition data.”

Here’s more from the story:

“Like most other law enforcement agencies, ICE uses information obtained from license plate readers as one tool in support of its investigations,” spokesperson Dani Bennett said in a statement. “ICE is not seeking to build a license plate reader database, and will not collect nor contribute any data to a national public or private database through this contract.” (Vigilant did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

While it collects few photos itself, Vigilant Solutions has amassed a database of more than 2 billion license plate photos by ingesting data from partners like vehicle repossession agencies and other private groups. Vigilant also partners with local law enforcement agencies, often collecting even more data from camera-equipped police cars. The result is a massive vehicle-tracking network generating as many as 100 million sightings per month, each tagged with a date, time, and GPS coordinates of the sighting.


What this means is that ICE agents can use the database in one of two days, Verge reports—a historical search, which provides “every place a given license plate has been spotted in the last five years,” or through “instantaneous email alerts whenever a new record of a particular plate is found.”

The whole story’s worth a read, as expectedly, civil libertarians are raising concerns about privacy and the agency’s possible use of the database. An ACLU rep summed it up very succinctly to The Verge: “Are we as a society, out of our desire to find those people, willing to let our government create an infrastructure that will track all of us?”