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Police Departments Using Car Tracking Database Sworn To Secrecy 202

Posted by timothy
from the you-swear-not-to-reveal-the-swearing-in dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Vigilant Solutions maintains what they claim is the nation's largest database of license-plate tracking data, 'LEARN' (Law Enforcement Archival and Reporting Network). But when a law enforcement agency signs up to use the database, they are sworn to keep it secret. The reason? They are quite clear about that: 'to prohibit users from cooperating with any media outlet to bring attention to LEARN or LEARN-NVLS.' So, they're tracking you (they're tracking everybody)... but they don't want you to know. The agreement, uncovered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, states: You shall not create, publish, distribute, or permit any written, electronically transmitted or other form of publicity material that makes reference to LEARN or this Agreement without first submitting the material to LEARN-NVLS and receiving written consent from LEARN-NVLS. This prohibition is specifically intended to prohibit users from cooperating with any media outlet to bring attention to LEARN or LEARN-NVLS. Breach this provision may result in LEARN-NVLS immediately termination of this Agreement upon notice to you."

Immediately after WIRED published the story, though, the agreement mysteriously changed. The secrecy provision is still there, but the statement that it's 'specifically intended' to prevent the media attention has vanished."
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Police Departments Using Car Tracking Database Sworn To Secrecy

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @11:32AM (#46929233)

    They sign extensive NDA's and "must" deny any and all usage of stingray cell phone "dummy tower" interception devices also - why?

    Probably because they have hidden legal ramifications that haven't been addressed. Why else?

  • by stewsters (1406737) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @11:35AM (#46929259)
    The obvious answer is because it is probably illegal to track everyone everywhere, but as long as knowledge of this doesn't go to the court no one will know and therefore they cannot rule it illegal. That's sketchy.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @11:43AM (#46929375)

      As long as the cameras are in public places or with the approval of the owner of private garages, it is not illegal. It is however very unwanted by the populace, as those who have nothing to hide don't want to feel like they need to start hiding.

      While this is (hopefully) just an aggregation of public data, it can (possibly) provide the same scale of information that GPS trackers on every car would provide (at somewhat lower detail). Since a warrant is needed to GPS a car, this sort of thing has entered a legal loophole that its owners do not want closed.

      • If everyone knew these cameras are around probably people would start shooting them and vandalizing them.

        • by plover (150551)

          As they're mounted onto police cars, I doubt that most people are inclined to vandalize them.

          These are camera systems that read license plates of every vehicle the cop passes (or that passes the cop). They pop up a note to the officer: "REVOKED LICENSE" "EXPIRED PLATE" "STOLEN VEHICLE", etc. The officer can then decide what course of action to take.

      • As long as the cameras are in public places or with the approval of the owner of private garages, it is not illegal.

        If I follow you around all day every day with a camera, recording your every move, I can and will be charged with something. Probably stalking or harassment.

    • The obvious answer is because it is probably illegal to track everyone everywhere, but as long as knowledge of this doesn't go to the court no one will know and therefore they cannot rule it illegal. That's sketchy.

      It is VERY illegal in my state for Law Enforcement to even look up a license plate without probable cause of at least a traffic infraction.

      And yes, LEOs have gotten in serious trouble for it. They are required by law to log their requests for information, with a reason for the request.

      And by the way, in case you were wondering: no, license plates and owner information are not a matter of public record here. They are protected by law.

      • by gerardrj (207690)

        They aren't looking up the owner info, just keeping track of where the license plates are seen.

      • It is VERY illegal in my state

        Which state?

        As an aside, and not particularly directed at you, I wish people would identify the state or country when they say "my state" or "my country".

        illegal ... to even look up a license plate without probable cause of at least a traffic infraction

        That's good, but maybe not as much of a protection as you think. A cop can always pull anybody over for a traffic infraction. Even if it's totally bogus, the cop can just let you go with a warning.

        Also, who knows whether LEO's have illegally accessed plate information? What safeguards are there?

        • by chihowa (366380) *

          As an aside, and not particularly directed at you, I wish people would identify the state or country when they say "my state" or "my country".

          I do too, but I don't think (most) people are doing it by accident or neglect. I think it's a more credible sounding way of pulling facts out of their ass and they're afraid of being called out as wrong if they give enough details to verify them.

          I have no idea if that's true in this particular case, because a quick search shows that license plate information is only a matter of public records in 38 states, but in many cases it clearly is. I love the long back-and-forth arguments where "my state" or "my coun

  • by MouseTheLuckyDog (2752443) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @11:41AM (#46929345)

    I posted a story which did not get accepted about John Filippidis. A guy who had a concealed carry permit in Florida. He did own a gun, and left it at home when on a trip. Maryland police stopped him and detained him for a couple of hours for no reason.

    This was made possible be datamining efforts and automatic license scanneres.

    Very chilling.

    • by PeeAitchPee (712652) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @11:48AM (#46929437)
      Link to the story [tbo.com] that you mention from the Tampa newspaper. Maryland police forces have a history of this kind of thuggish behavior; even now, the MD State Police and the MD press (e.g., the Baltimore Sun) refuse to comment or even report on this story.
      • by tomhath (637240)
        Probably more to do with a Latino appearing man with Florida plates than a gun permit. Police along the East Coast assume drug mule when they see that combination.
        • RTFA. The guy had no gun in the car (he'd left it locked up in FL), but the MD cops knew he had a CCW permit even though he was a FL resident . . . how is that possible?
          • by tomhath (637240)

            I did RTFA. We only have one side of the story, don't know what else was asked or said.

            The reason they gave for stopping him was speeding, but only after the cop took a good look at him. It's very possible, likely even, that they knew he had a gun permit. Especially after checking his driver's license.

            But I'm guessing the reason he was stopped was so they could search for drugs or large amounts of cash. That happens all the time. His speculation that the stop was because he has a gun permit or that it was

  • Paranoia (Score:3, Insightful)

    by meta-monkey (321000) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @11:48AM (#46929431) Journal

    The elites are terrified. Absolutely terrified of the middle and lower classes.

  • Even more chilling (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mike Ice (3637719) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @11:59AM (#46929549)
    Vigilant Solutions warehouses the data themselves and then sells it back to the consumer (in this case the local Police). To avoid ACLU issues with the Police actually handling the data they prefer to use Vigilant. Vigilant also shares this data between these organizations - so much so that going with any other system becomes pointless for the local Police. In short - one corporation having access to the location and habits of much of the country and then controlling access to that data. Chilling indeed.
    • by MightyYar (622222) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @12:48PM (#46930177)

      I really detest this separation courts have setup between "private" corporations and the government. The government gives corporations their charter and is the only reason they exist in the first place. So we decide that we can't trust our elected officials with certain responsibilities, and so instead we give those same responsibilities to unelected owners. Oh, and those owners can then take that taxpayer money and funnel it right back to the elected officials in the form of legal "lobbying".

      The whole thing is batty.

      • And of course it's all paid for by the taxes on the middle class. Our Betters have us paying for the class war against us. I'm not even mad. I'm just impressed.

        • by MightyYar (622222)

          The rich pay an outsized amount of the income tax, but these days payroll taxes pay as much into the federal coffers as income tax does. That is what is often left out of tax discussions. I think payroll tax, which is regressive, should be a much smaller part of our revenue mix.

      • Companies and employers are used as Fourth Amendment bypass proxies ALL THE TIME. It's pretty ridiculous. If data is aggregated about me, I am the owner of that data, not the company, and if police want to see that data I should be given notice that they want to see it and the opportunity to argue my case against it.
      • by JohnFen (1641097)

        I agree. I'm of the opinion that when the government hires outside firms to perform governmental operations, then those firms are acting as an agent of the government and should be subject to all of the same laws, requirements, and restrictions as the government.

  • Looks like (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MitchDev (2526834) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @12:02PM (#46929573)

    a prime target for "Anonymous"....

  • "specifically intended' to prevent the media attention has vanished"
    Not on the internet it hasn't. Someone's PR department needs to learn how the internet works. They should go to Internet 101 class taught by adjust instructor, Barbara Streisand.
  • Not surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @12:10PM (#46929679)

    Companies that collect data are realizing people are starting to become more aware of what is being collected and concerned about it. If enough people start making noise Congress may start to act and limit what can be collected and how it is used.

    Here is an interesting thought for the real lawyers that read /. Could someone subpoena their data, if say they were charged with crime? Or as part of a civil suit? I would think not since they really aren't a part of the issue unless perhaps the cops used the data to locate someone or in an investigation, in which case this layman's view is the accused would have a right to see the data and challenge its use.

    Of course, if the data became public imagine the havoc it could cause. Could you see the reaction from an elected official if a reporter showed up and asked them very detailed questions about their comings and goings?

    • Can't wait until some enterprising Divorce lawyer uses this data to prove the husband is having an affair or a Criminal lawyer uses it to alibi his defendant.

      All this data should be available for discovery if the Police have access to it an yes I realize that Divorce is civil.

  • by redelm (54142) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @12:16PM (#46929751) Homepage

    Please note, the cops probably _like_ the "restriction": When asked, it permits them to answer "It is illegal for us to comment", or to a judge "We cannot comment without violating our contractual agreements." People forget judicial privilige overrides contract.

    As as posted by another, the use of the database could violate some data-protection law saying "access to this DB is restricted to ongoing official police investigations". Not to stalk GFs! So LAPD has to make the bogus claim that all drivers in LA are under investigation. Otherwise, their use of the tag readers tied to the tag owner DB would be illegal. And everything found thereafter excluded from evidence as "fruit of the poisoned vine". Not something they want to contemplate.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Is it legal to hide your tag while on private property? What about privately owned, but publicly accessible property? I assume that it's legal to own a street-legal car even if it doesn't have tags, as long as its not driven on public streets. Therefore, I should be able to park my car in my driveway, hide the tag, and it would be perfectly legal. Can I do this in parking garages, or lots? If I park my car in the lot outside a shopping mall, and hide the tag, is that still legal? If it's legal, then w

    • Unlicensed cars on your property are almost always a code violation. If you own a track only car you are supposed to park it in the garage and _not_ work on it there.

      Because you are going to make your property a junk yard/race shop or something.

      I back them into the driveway and blatantly ignore the 'no working on cars' rule.

      • Only if you live in a city, for the most part. If you stop sucking off the teat of the Man and move out into the country there are no bullshit regulations like this.

        • Only if you live in a city, for the most part. If you stop sucking off the teat of the Man and move out into the country there are no bullshit regulations like this.

          Are you talking about those rural areas that get higher government subsidies per capita than the cities, and then crow about being rugged individualists?

      • The fuck? You can't work on your own car in your own garage? I'd really like to see a citation for this.
    • by plover (150551)

      In Japan, the "love hotels" supposedly have someone who will go out to the parking lot and hang black covers over the license plates, so that a spouse driving by won't spot the cheater's car.

      Apparently, that's another area where we're falling behind the Japanese.

    • by jittles (1613415)

      Is it legal to hide your tag while on private property? What about privately owned, but publicly accessible property? I assume that it's legal to own a street-legal car even if it doesn't have tags, as long as its not driven on public streets. Therefore, I should be able to park my car in my driveway, hide the tag, and it would be perfectly legal. Can I do this in parking garages, or lots? If I park my car in the lot outside a shopping mall, and hide the tag, is that still legal? If it's legal, then what do you think is the likelihood that it will get towed?

      Don't do this in California. They will tow your car right out of your driveway if they can see from the street that it does not have a license plate. It happened to my parents once, and it took a lot of legal wrangling to get the car back without paying insane fees and fines.

      • Don't do this in California. They will tow your car right out of your driveway if they can see from the street that it does not have a license plate.

        Wow, and I thought NY was a fascist state. What CA law justifies that? Around here, a car on private property needn't have any license plates, registration, or any such thing. If it's not on a public road it's not the government's business. I, and many people I know, have taken a junker to be fixed up or something, and only registered it, etc., after that was done. The only problem is neighbors who don't respect my cultural heritage as white trash. Do you think I should sue them on civil rights violations?

        • by jittles (1613415)

          Don't do this in California. They will tow your car right out of your driveway if they can see from the street that it does not have a license plate.

          Wow, and I thought NY was a fascist state. What CA law justifies that? Around here, a car on private property needn't have any license plates, registration, or any such thing. If it's not on a public road it's not the government's business. I, and many people I know, have taken a junker to be fixed up or something, and only registered it, etc., after that was done. The only problem is neighbors who don't respect my cultural heritage as white trash. Do you think I should sue them on civil rights violations?

          Vehicle registration laws in California require you to keep a car registered. If they can't see the tag, the assumption is that it is not registered. The fee for having a car that is Non-Op is (or at least was) very nominal. Just a few dollars per year. Most cities consider cars without tags to be a nuisance, and will tow them. If its in the garage, or if you're in a non-incorporated area, they usually don't really care.

          • Most cities consider cars without tags to be a nuisance, and will tow them.

            Off of private property, with no notification? That's still absurd. What next, they'll repaint your house and charge you through the nose for it if they don't like the color? Oh no, that's the HOA's job. HOA's are another thing we don't have around here, and I'm glad of it.

            Despite what the neighborhood Nazis and their government cronies think, your neighborhood and your town won't turn into a slum because you're fixing up an unregistered car on your property, or paint your house an ugly color. I live in wha

            • by jittles (1613415)
              I'm not saying I consider it to be a problem. I grew up working on cars. I am just saying that is how it is considered. It seems to me that you should be able to keep anything you want on your property, so long as it is not a public safety hazard. But there are plenty of people who disagree. My parents live in an older home that was constructed long before the days of HOA's, too.
    • by JohnFen (1641097)

      Is it legal to hide your tag while on private property?

      In my state, the answer to all your questions is "yes". Your car only has to display the proper tags and license plates when it is being operated on public roads and thoroughfares. If you're on private property, you don't even need a license to operate those cars, either.

  • Immediately after WIRED published the story, though, the agreement mysteriously changed. The secrecy provision is still there, but the statement that it's 'specifically intended' to prevent the media attention has vanished."

    It doesn't much matter anymore, now does it? :)

  • If there is a warrant out for my arrest or a license plate is reported stolen, this system can identify it much faster than the old license plate over the radio. This seems to allow the police to stop and question people that they have a legit reason to do so, not just because you crossed the center line.

    • by plover (150551)

      The identifying of an offender is one thing. However, once identified, it can be stored in a database and analyzed.

      This is also good and bad. If a crime is discovered after the fact, the database could be searched to narrow down a list of suspects and confirm alibis. Catching actual felons and exonerating the innocent would be a very legitimate use of the data. But if the mayor hears about a meeting of the Anti-Corrupt-Mayor's Coalition, and knows the plates of the leader's car, he can identify other ca

  • Problem is, what they learned is mass surveillance is OK, what's not OK is letting the sheeple know about it.
  • by Mansing (42708) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @12:40PM (#46930053)

    I'm sorry, but no Connecticut (US) municipal department can sign an agreement like that without being in violation of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act. Any contract, documentation, or proposal involving a municipality is a public document.

    Too bad, so sad.

    • by swb (14022)

      This is probably true in most states with decent sunshine laws. The problem is that it's a civil, not criminal, law, and about the only entity that can prove it has been done is a state auditor.

      I would bet that even in states with good sunshine laws, most major police departments have secret agreements with vendors, some of which at the police departments request, and probably a few at the vendor's request.

      I think more should be done about this -- it should be a termination for cause for the police chief i

  • I presume since this is slashdot, home of the libertarian and capitalist freedom thinkers, we're all okay with this.

    This is a private company, not the government - so it should be totally okay. Since they're a corporation, the free market will decide if it's willing to keep them around. If nobody buys their stuff, they'll go out of business, and if you don't like what they do you can organize a boycott.

    That's how the free market works, right?
    Right?

  • by sandbagger (654585) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @01:03PM (#46930391)

    I'm sure Vigilant Solutions will be happy to talk to you.

  • There's this legal principal in the U.S. called "Sovereign Immunity" having its origins in the colonial (and earlier english) law. A citizen can't sue the king without his consent, the king here having become the government.

    Suppose some P.D. did disclose the existence or the data from this database. Do you really think Vigilant Solutions is going to take them to court? Even if there was a statutory authorization permitting the P.D. to be sued, a secret corporation probably would not want their database to b

    • by maharvey (785540)
      The contract provision is not a threat. It's an excuse. Devil: I have this technology that will let you monitor everyone. Nobody will be safe! Cops: Hmm, it's kind of questionable at best, maybe illegal, and if the people get wind of it laws will be passed and I'll lose my job Devil: Ah, but you'll be so effective you'll get a promotion. And nobody will ever know. Tell you what, we'll make a contract that prohibits you from saying anything. And if you say anything, the contract is instantly voided and you'
  • As with red light cameras/speeding cameras, car tracking data can be a source of income by state/local gov't. The Feds have restricted the sale of DMV data [epic.org], so governments are looking for alternatives.
  • Imagine if this technology was available during the civil rights era. The Jim Crow laws would still be in place.

  • by jafac (1449) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @04:08PM (#46932961) Homepage

    .... develop a display panel which ONLY emits IR (not visible light).

    Mount such display panel adjacent to your license plate.
    Connect display to computer which outputs randomly-generated license plate numbers, every half second.
    Result: Scanners "see" hundreds of different plate ID's, among your own.
    Data collection foiled.
    No Laws Broken.

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