Vigilant Solutions, founded in 2009, claims to have the nation’s largest repository of license-plate images with nearly 2 billion records stored in its National Vehicle Location Service (NVLS). Despite the enormous implications of the database for the public, any law enforcement agency that signs up for the service is sworn to a vow of silence by the company’s terms of service. Vigilant is clear about the reason for the secrecy: it’s to prevent customers from “cooperating” with media and calling attention to its database. That database is used by law enforcement and others to track stolen cars or vehicles used in crimes, as well as to locate illegal immigrants, kidnapping victims and others — though the vast majority of license plates stored belong to ordinary drivers who aren’t suspected of a crime. (via Cops Must Swear Silence to Access Vehicle Tracking System | Threat Level | WIRED)
The agreement law enforcement signs, which was uncovered by the EFF, reads in part:
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 [sic].
LEARN stands for Law Enforcement Archival and Reporting Network and is Vigilant’s online portal where license plate data and images are aggregated and analyzed for law enforcement to access.
“LEARN provides agencies with an easy way to manage users and vehicle hotlists, query historical license plate reader (LPR) data and used [sic] advanced analytics for enhanced investigations,” thecompany’s web site says.