The SLO County Sheriff's Office may have been sharing data collected using automated license plate reader technology with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), possibly violating California's "sanctuary state" law.
- File Photo Courtesy Of ICE
- SHARING DATA The SLO County Sheriff's Office suspended the use of its automated license plate reading system after documents released by the ACLU indicated it had agreed to share the data with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The department was one of 80 U.S. law enforcement agencies that were sharing such data with ICE, according to internal documents obtained by the Northern California ACLU. Among the documents is a report that names the SLO Sheriff's Office as one of the agencies that agreed to share data collected using automated license plate readers with ICE through a massive database run by Vigilant Solutions, a private law enforcement technology company that entered into a $6.1 million contract with ICE in 2017.
In a written response to questions from New Times, the SLO Sheriff's Office said it has not shared license plate data with ICE, and the department has since stopped using its license plate reader system in order to conduct a legal review.
"We have never used that system for immigration enforcement. The Sheriff's Office has one license plate reader in use at this time with the primary purpose of stopping drug smuggling and human trafficking in our county," Sheriff's spokesman Tony Cipolla wrote. "We are currently suspending the use of that system until further consultation with county counsel regarding the legality of data collected and shared from license plate readers."
Automated readers use small, high-speed cameras, commonly mounted on law enforcement vehicles to photograph license plate numbers. Data they collect include the license plate numbers and a log of the dates, times, and locations.
In a written statement issued after the documents' release, the ACLU of Northern California condemned the practice and called on law enforcement agencies to stop sharing license plate scanner data with ICE, which it said has an "egregious record of terrorizing immigrant communities."
"It is appalling that ICE has added this mass surveillance database to its arsenal, and that local law enforcement agencies and private companies are aiding the agency in its surveillance efforts," Vasudha Talla, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, said in the written statement. "Local law enforcement agencies must immediately stop sharing their residents' information with this rogue and immoral agency."
The ACLU also claimed that sharing the information with ICE was a violation of two California laws, including the SB 54 "sanctuary law," which prohibits local law enforcement agencies from enforcing federal immigration law and limits cooperation and information sharing with ICE and other federal immigration agencies.
During a December 2018 presentation to the county Board of Supervisors, Sheriff Ian Parkinson said the department was abiding by the sanctuary law, noting that his department no longer provided ICE with a list of foreign-born inmates in the jail. He added that ICE had "nearly zero access" to inmates in jail.
"In other words, we follow the law," Parkinson told the supervisors.
In the wake of ACLU's release of the documents, there are indications that some of the law enforcement agencies may not have known they were allowing ICE access to license plate reader data through Vigilant's database. That includes the Tulare Police Department. According to a statement from the department, it accidentally agreed to share the data with ICE after "inadvertently checking one box" while signing a contract to use Vigilant Solution's system. Tulare PD characterized the incident as an "unfortunate mishap."
"The department was unaware of the exact details regarding how the data collected was shared because we don't manage the data ourselves," the department's statement said. Δ