A California technology company got into the business of creating "essential intelligence solutions for law enforcement" that "enhance policing efforts."
But to work with them, you have to keep your mouth shut.
Vigilant Solutions has positioned itself as a transparent support operation for law enforcement — employing a very specific tool, the National Vehicle Location Service and a facial recognition service — but the user agreement each agency must sign makes it very clear: Vigilant doesn't want media attention.
"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," the document states, according to Wired.
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. The agreement continues: "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]."
[sharequote align="left"]"This prohibition is specifically intended to prohibit users from cooperating with any media outlet..."[/sharequote]
Their legalese sounds a more like a mafia pact than "making intelligence readily accessible and easy to use," as their mission statement touts.
Founded in 2008, Vigilant began by a serving a market in data tracking; they sold Automatic License Plate Reader systems to companies for commercial purposes, like repossession companies and bounty hunters.
But as their set of data grew, they realized they could open up another pool of clients by marketing to law enforcement agencies.
"Data shared to NVLS by law enforcement is available free of charge via a LEARN account ... the data remains the property of the agency and is governed by the data retention policy set by that agency. The data is accessible only to law enforcement users, and is not shared or used by Vigilant Solutions in any way."
Vigilant says its largest pool of data is harvested by commercial sources -- most notably Vigilant’s subsidiary, DRN (Digital Recognition Network) -- which TheBlaze has highlighted in the past.
According to Vigilant's website, "This pool of LPR data totals over 1.8 billion detections and grows at a rate of almost 70 million per month. This data is available via an annual subscription and greatly enhances an agency’s investigative reach."
The numbers now reach well above 2 billion captured plates.
Vigilant also offers a tool called FaceSearch to improve law enforcement field validation of identities and assist with supervision for parole, probation or registered sex offenders.
The software instructional video found on Vigilant's website says their database can be populated with "image(s) sent via email, (or) gathered from social media," and then the system provides an orientation feature to "improve matching performance." (Image source: YouTube)
The FaceSearch database and the NVLS do offer efficient means for law enforcement professionals to access data on criminals, but as we see time and time again, there is no guarantee a treasure trove of data like this won't be targeted by hackers. That will likely leave some wondering how their face won't be replaced with that of a sex offender in the registry, for example.
Vigilant Systems did not immediately respond to TheBlaze's request for comment on the security protocols for their database.
And for those who value due process and privacy, Vigilant's potentially scariest comments are buried in pages of legal documents. They state it plainly near the top of their mission statement: "Intelligence can solve crimes (and) prevent crimes before they occur."
Critics will undoubtedly wonder, then: How do you prevent crimes before they occur? And does the company track the daily activities of innocent people, without a warrant?
Many law enforcement agencies vehemently support the use of the tracking system. A Johnson County Police spokesman told TheBlaze that in 2014 alone, 100 "good" arrests had been made because of the ALPR system they use. And despite some misreads, the tracking system led to the arrest of the "Kansas City Shooter."
Even the ACLU admits the license plate reading systems aren't all bad, but they do cite the shocking lack of restriction when it comes to data collection and storage on innocent Americans.
Follow Elizabeth Kreft (@elizabethakreft) on Twitter