Vigilant Solutions, one of the largest brokers of vehicle surveillance technology, is offering a deal to Texas law enforcement agencies: automated license plate reader (ALPR) equipment and access to the company's massive databases and analytical tools—and it won't cost the agency a dime, reports the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Even though the technology is marketed as budget neutral, that doesn't mean no one has to pay. Instead, Texas police fund it by charging people who have outstanding court fines and handing Vigilant all of the data they gather on drivers for nearly unlimited commercial use. ALPR refers to high-speed camera networks that capture license plate images, convert the plate numbers into machine-readable text, geotag and time-stamp the information, and store it all in database systems. ALPRs typically capture sensitive location information on all drivers—not just criminal suspects—and, in aggregate, the information can reveal personal information, such as where you go to church, what doctors you visit, and where you sleep at night.
Vigilant is leveraging a new Texas law that allows officers to install credit and debit card readers in their patrol vehicles to take payment on the spot for unpaid court fines, also known as capias warrants. The “warrant redemption” program works like this. The agency is given 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. The government agency 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: get arrested, or pay the original fine with an extra 25% processing fee tacked on, all of which goes to Vigilant.