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License Plate Data Collected At Irvine Co. Malls Possibly Provided To ICE

License plate data is being collected at three Southern California shopping centers owned by the Irvine Co. and then provided to a tech company linked to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to a report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.


The license plate data, collected by automated license plate readers, isn't going directly to ICE. Rather, the foundation said, Irvine Co. provides the data to Vigilant Solutions, which is a technology vendor that sells location data to the federal immigration agency. 

ICE signed a contract with Vigilant in late 2017 to gain access to the company's vast license plate database. Vigilant's vehicle-tracking network generates as many as 100 million sightings per month, The Verge reports.

ALPR cameras capture images of license plates, and then the system converts the visual characters into plain-text characters stamped with time, date and place information.

A user of the system, such as ICE, can track a particular vehicle from place to place to look for travel patterns, or identify all cars at a particular time and particular place, such as a mall parking lot.

Newport Beach-based Irvine Co., which operates 46 malls in California, has been using ALPRs since late 2016, according to a document published on the company's website. That document, the publication of which is required by California law, doesn't specify which properties are monitored using the technology, merely noting that ALPRs are active at "one or more" properties.

The company told The Verge that Vigilant employs ALPR technology at its 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,” the company said in a statement.

The Irvine Co. owns properties in Irvine, La Jolla, Newport Beach, Redwood City, San Jose, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale, among other places. According to The Verge, the three properties sharing data with Vigilant are Irvine Spectrum Center, Fashion Island and The Marketplace, all in Orange County. 

Most states don't require private property owners to report their use of ALPR, so there is no way to gauge the scale of such surveillance at retail properties, or whether ICE might have access to that data.