Update: BART says license plate numbers never made it to ICE; moves to adopt new privacy guidelines

Update: BART says license plate numbers never made it to ICE; moves to adopt new privacy guidelines
Bay Area Rapid Transit announced Thursday that ICE did not have access to passenger license plate numbers that BART inadvertently sent to a government data center, following previous reports that immigration officials were able to view the information. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

After taking heat for sending passenger license plate numbers to a federal database, the Bay Area Rapid Transit reported on Thursday that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was never granted access to the information and the board has approved new guidelines for privacy protection.

What are the details?

Community activists in Oakland, California, lashed out at BART this week, accusing the transit operation of putting illegal immigrants at risk of deportation after discovering more than 57,000 pictures of passengers’ license plates were sent to the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center.

The NCRIC manages information for several government agencies, including ICE.

But on Thursday, BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost announced on Twitter that the photos were never shown to agency. She posted on Twitter: “BART Police Chief just told the @SFBART board that the info from the License Plate Reader that was inadvertently turned on at the MacArthur garage and sent to the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center was NOT shared with ICE.”

Trost told KPIX-TV that NCRIC confirmed that ICE “doesn’t and didn’t have access to” the surveillance scans it  received from BART.

What did the board of directors do?

While outrage from privacy advocates continued over the mistakenly-sent license numbers, BART’s board of directors voted unanimously to implement new surveillance guidelines on Thursday.

KGO-TV reported that BART’s new ordinance requires board approval and public debate prior to any purchase of new surveillance equipment that involves personally identifiable information of passengers.

Activist Brian Hofer of Oakland Privacy explained to KGO, “It’s going to insure that reasonable guidelines are put in place for the use of this technology, and the retention of data, and the sharing with outside third parties.”

The new guidelines have been in the works for a few years, and were praised by the California ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“Today’s decision will help BART staff and law enforcement officials begin to earn back the community’s trust by asking us for feedback about how they navigate the city,” Sameena Usman, government relations coordinator for CAIR SF, said in a statement in response to the measure.

“Under an administration committed to targeting sanctuary cities like San Francisco, it will protect our civil liberties at the local level, which is crucial to the safety of our most marginalized communities.”