Grits had suggested that Rep. Allen Fletcher's HB 121, combined with automatic license plate reader technology, could allow police to “cherry pick drivers with outstanding warrants instead of looking for current, real-time traffic violations.”
Wrote EFF's Dave Maass (formerly of the San Antonio Current):
As it turns out, contracts between between Vigilant and Guadalupe County and the City of Kyle in Texas reveal that Henson was right to worry.So really, I wasn't cynical enough. Grits certainly didn't anticipate that license plate reader vendors would give away their systems in exchange for a 25 percent surcharge. EFF concluded that:
The “warrant redemption” program works like this. The agency gets no-cost license plate readers as well as free access to LEARN-NVLS, the ALPR data system Vigilant says contains more than 2.8-billion plate scans and is growing by more than 70 million scans a month. This also includes a wide variety of analytical and predictive software tools.
The government agency in turn gives Vigilant access to information about all its outstanding court fees, which the company then turns into a hot list to feed into the free ALPR systems. As police cars patrol the city, they ping on license plates associated with the fees. The officer then pulls the driver over and offers them a devil’s bargain: go to jail, or pay the original fine with an extra 25% processing fee tacked on, all of which goes to Vigilant.1 In other words, the driver is paying Vigilant to provide the local police with the technology used to identify and then detain the driver. If the ALPR pings on a parked car, the officer can get out and leave a note to visit Vigilant’s payment website.
But Vigilant isn’t just compensated with motorists’ cash. The law enforcement agencies are also using the privacy of everyday drivers as currency.
In early December 2015, Vigilant issued a press release bragging that Guadalupe County had used the systems to collect on more than 4,500 warrants between April and December 2015. In January 2016, the City of Kyle signed an identical deal with Vigilant. Soon after, Guadalupe County upgraded the contract to allow Vigilant to dispatch its own contractors to collect on capias warrants.
the system raises a whole host of problems:RELATED: Bud Kennedy at the Star-Telegram offered up a column criticizing the shift in priorities:
There was a time where companies like Vigilant marketed ALPR technology as a way to save kidnapped children, recover stolen cars, and catch violent criminals. But as we’ve long warned, ALPRs in fact are being deployed for far more questionable practices.
- It turns police into debt collectors, who have to keep swiping credit cards to keep the free equipment.
- It turns police into data miners, who use the privacy of local drivers as currency.
- It not-so-subtly shifts police priorities from responding to calls and traffic violations to responding to a computer’s instructions.
- Policy makers and the public are unable to effectively evaluate the technology since the contract prohibits police from speaking honestly and openly about the program.
- The model relies on debt: there’s no incentive for criminal justice leaders to work with the community to reduce the number of capias warrants, since that could result in losing the equipment.
- People who have committed no crimes whatsoever have their driving patterns uploaded into a private system and no opportunity to control or watchdog how that data is disseminated.
The Texas public should be outraged at the terrible deals their representatives are signing with this particular surveillance contractor, and the legislature should reexamine the unintended consequences of the law they passed last year.
Lawmakers originally said the system would save officers time — true — but justice reformers were concerned that collections would become the focus over traffic patrol.
EFF warned that “To Protect and Serve” would become “To Stop and Swipe.”