News & Politics

Shopping Centers in California Are Spying on Customers for an ICE Contractor

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How would you feel if the shopping center you frequent took a picture of your license plate and reported it to a government agency such as ICE — without your knowledge?

That’s exactly what’s happening in some of the shopping centers being run by the Irvine Company. The company manages 46 centers in California and has been collecting this information using automated license plate readers (ALPRs) provided by Vigilant Solutions. The information, including the plate number, time and GPS location, is being provided to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The agency is able to receive near-real-time alerts when a targeted vehicle is spotted in a shopping center’s parking lot.

According to a recent disclosure reported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “The information only came to light due to a three-year-old law passed in California that requires ALPR operators—both public and private alike—to post their ALPR policies online. Malls in other states where no such law exists could well be engaged in similar violations of customer privacy without any public accountability.”

The Irvine Company shopping centers are located in Irvine, La Jolla, Newport Beach, Redwood City, San Jose, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale. The disclosure doesn’t specify which shopping centers use ALPRs, only that they are in operation in one or more of its locations.

The company provided this response to Verge:

Irvine Company is a customer of Vigilant Solutions. Vigilant employs ALPR technology at our three Orange County regional shopping centers. Vigilant is required by contract, and have assured us, that ALPR data collected at these locations is only shared with local police departments as part of their efforts to keep the local community safe.

It’s likely that the Irving Company’s spying is happening to you as well. That’s because Vigilant Solutions has created and distributed their automated license plate readers across the country and they collect 100 million license plate records each month. They have a data-sharing agreement with about 3000 law enforcement agencies across the U.S. and, as a result, a number of major cities are currently being sued by the ACLU.

While we’re not quite as bad as the new surveillance systems going up in China — where everyone is watched — analyzed, and even rated — we’re well on the road to being surveilled wherever we go and whatever we do.