Media Contact

Meghan Holden, ACLU of Connecticut, 860-992-7645, mholden@acluct.org
Leslie Fulbright, ACLU of Northern California, 415-621-2493 x309, lfulbright@aclunc.org

March 13, 2019

HARTFORD — Eight Connecticut law enforcement agencies (the Fairfield, Westport, Enfield, Wethersfield, Stratford, Trumbull, Norwalk, and Southern Connecticut State University police departments) are providing residents’ location information to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to aid the agency’s mass surveillance efforts, according to records released today by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. The records reveal that this location information, along with the location information provided by over 80 local law enforcement nationwide, is powering an expansive automated license plate detector database that ICE is accessing to track people’s daily movements.

“This is the latest example of why Connecticut needs a multitude of safeguards to take control of police surveillance and limit local law enforcement’s cooperation with ICE,” said David McGuire, ACLU of Connecticut executive director. “It is appalling that ICE has added this mass surveillance database to its arsenal and that Connecticut local agencies are compromising the privacy and civil liberties of Connecticut residents to aid this immoral deportation machine in its surveillance efforts. All eight of these Connecticut police departments must immediately stop sharing their residents' information with this rogue and immoral agency, and Connecticut’s legislature must step up to pass a statewide law to take control over police surveillance, create privacy protections if the state adopts electronic tolls, and pass a bill to strengthen the TRUST Act.”

"We already know how ICE is rogue agency that is chasing people at courthouses and detaining people for traffic tickets. But this is a whole other level,” said Mary Elizabeth Smith of Make The Road CT. “Make the Road members travel, live, go to school, and work in the very towns mentioned in this report - Trumbull, Fairfield, and Stratford. No one should fear for their lives and safety while going about their daily lives. It is unacceptable for our local police departments to share license place information with ICE. The only reason for ICE to want this information to strike fear in the hearts of our community, and we won't stand for it. That is why we demand that the state of Connecticut take steps to limit corporation between local police and ICE by passing legislation like SB 992 TRUST Act and SB 948 364 Day Sentencing."

"We are appalled by the findings of this report. Specifically by the news that the police department at Southern CT State University is sharing information with ICE,” said Jonathan Gonzalez, SCSU alumnus and CT Students for a Dream policy coordinator. “No student should feel at risk or threatened when seeking to pursue their education. When this happens, our students ability to learn are severely affected - which goes against the goals of our institutions of higher learning.  Depending on the extend of cooperation between SCSU and ICE, what is outlined is this report goes against the ICE Protocol released by President Okjakin on Feb 24, 2017. It is particularly ironic that SCSU is named when the school has an annual Social Justice month. A college can't prioritize social justice if it is helping ICE separate families and target students."

"The ACLU's finding's regarding state and local police sharing license plate information with ICE further expose the complicity of Connecticut law enforcement with a racist deportation regime,” said Alok Bhatt, Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance (CIRA) community defense coordinator. “While this information causes alarm, it should also galvanize us to escalate our fight to get ICE out of Connecticut. We need strong state policies, like the TRUST Act (SB992), to prevent such systematic violence, while further organizing to defend our own communities."

The documents were obtained by the ACLU of Northern California through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed in May of 2018. The records show more than 9,000 ICE agents have access to a vast automated license plate reader database run by a company called Vigilant Solutions under a $6.1 million contract that the public first learned of last year. The exact scope of ICE’s access to the database, existence and nature of its collaboration with local law enforcement agencies, and broad reach of the surveillance apparatus, however, remained unknown until now.

Vigilant Solution’s database allows the agency to pinpoint the locations of drivers going about their daily private lives, and gives it access to over 5 billion points of location information collected by private businesses like insurance companies and parking lots. ICE agents can also access an additional 1.5 billion records collected by law enforcement agencies. More than 80 local law enforcement agencies, from more than a dozen states, have agreed to share license plate location information with ICE. Emails show police in some locations handing driver information over to ICE informally, violating their localities’ laws and ICE policies.

The ACLU of Connecticut is calling on law enforcement to stop sharing residents’ location data with ICE and for the Connecticut General Assembly to pass bills to take control over police surveillance and strengthen the state’s TRUST Act, a law intended to prevent this type of cooperation between local police and ICE. The ACLU of Connecticut is also calling for legislators to include privacy protections in any bill to bring tolls to Connecticut roads.

Automated license plate readers, mounted on police cars or on objects like toll gantries, use small, high-speed cameras to photograph thousands of plates per minute. When that data – which includes the date, time, and location of each scan – is aggregated over time, it gives law enforcement an intimate portrait of people's lives, including their affiliations, family, interests, activities. Electronic tolls rely on automatic license plate readers, attached to toll gantries, to scan and track cars.

In 2014, a representative of Vigilant Solutions testified before Connecticut’s legislature to oppose privacy protections from license plate readers. During that testimony, he compared license plates to “a tree or a bush.” 

Vigilant draws its license plate information from the “most populous 50 metropolitan areas” in the country, corresponding to almost 60 percent of the U.S. population. The company encourages law enforcement to share location information collected locally with hundreds of other agencies nationwide, making it “as easy as adding a friend on your favorite social media platform.” The records also include training materials that provide ICE with tools to make friends with local police. These include an interactive map of the United States displaying the agencies using Vigilant software and “a step-by-step guide” containing instructions on requesting access from local agencies to their residents’ location information.

The documents are available here: https://www.aclunc.org/docs/DOCS_031319.pdf

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