Documents Uncover NYPD’s Vast License Plate Reader Database

Supporters of license plate readers are fond of saying that unless you’re a criminal, you needn’t fear the invasive technology. But those who adhere to that argument should consider just a few examples from around the country:

  • A police officer in Washington D.C. pleaded guilty to extortion after looking up the plates of cars near a gay bar and blackmailing the car’s owners. 
  • The DEA contemplated using license plate readers to monitor people who were at a gun show. Since the devices can’t distinguish between those who are selling illegal guns and those who aren’t, a person’s presence at the gun show would have landed them in a DEA database. 
  • A SWAT team in Kansas raided a man’s house where his wife, 7-year-old daughter, and 13-year-old son lived based in part on the mass monitoring of cars parked at a gardening store. The man was held at gunpoint for two hours while cops combed through his home. The police were looking for a marijuana growing operation. They did not find that or any other evidence of criminal activity in the man’s house.

With these stories firmly in mind, the New York Civil Liberties Union’s latest license plate reader discovery is all the more chilling.

Last year, we learned that the NYPD was hoping to enter into a multi-year contract that would give it access to the nationwide database of license plate reader data owned by the company Vigilant Solutions. Now, through a Freedom of Information Law request, the NYCLU has obtained the final version of the $442,500 contract and the scope-of-work proposal that gives a peek into the ever-widening world of surveillance made possible by Vigilant.

Surveillance is about power. Vigilant gives the NYPD power to monitor our whereabouts and, by extension, our affiliations, interests, activities and beliefs. 

The scope-of-work proposal explains how Vigilant vastly expands the NYPD’s surveillance capability beyond what was possible with its own license plate database. Known as the Domain Awareness System, it collects the license plate data scanned by the approximately 500 license plate readers operated by the NYPD and combines it with footage from cameras and other surveillance devices around the city. The NYPD holds on to the license plate data for at least five years regardless of whether a car triggers any suspicion.

The Vigilant database raises similar privacy concerns as the Domain Awareness System, but those concerns are greatly magnified because the Vigilant database is massive: It contains over 2.2 billion location data points, and it is growing by almost a million data points per day. The database also isn’t limited to New York City, which means the NYPD can now monitor your car whether you live in New York or Miami or Chicago or Los Angeles. (See Vigilant’s Nationwide Scan Density Map on page 64.) Even more worrisome, the data comes from private license plate readers that scan locations that the police are less likely to scan: residential areas, apartment complexes, retail areas, and business office complexes with large employee parking areas. And, as far as we can tell, there is no limit on how long Vigilant keeps all of this private location data. There is no incentive for Vigilant to delete any data because its business model is to profit off of selling people’s data.

The Vigilant database also boasts “full suite data analytics tools.” These tools allow police officers to track cars historically or in real time, conduct a virtual “stakeout,” figure out which cars are commonly seen in close proximity to each other, and predict likely locations to find a car.

With this volume of private data and these types of tools, Vigilant enables the NYPD to learn intimate details about people’s lives with a click of a mouse. Through the “stakeout” feature, the NYPD may learn who was at a political rally, at an abortion clinic, or at a gay bar. Through the predictive analysis, the NYPD may learn that a person is likely to be near a mosque at prayer time or at home during certain hours of the day.  Through the “associate analysis,” the NYPD may come to suspect someone of being a “possible associate” of a criminal when the person is simply a family member, a friend, or a lover.

Until now, law enforcement agencies under contract with Vigilant, including the NYPD, have said very little in public about how they use the database and what privacy protections they implement. That needs to change. Fifty police officers at the NYPD’s Real Crime Center have access to the Vigilant database and tools every day. The public has the right to know what rules regulate their access and what oversight mechanisms, if any, are in place. They have the right to know when and how the police are using the database and what the consequences are. 

Surveillance is about power. Vigilant gives the NYPD power to monitor our whereabouts and, by extension, our affiliations, interests, activities and beliefs. By demanding answers to critical questions about NYPD’s use of Vigilant and other surveillance tools, New Yorkers can begin to take back the power imbalance created by the new era of mass digital surveillance. 

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Do a little research on Howard Safir and "Vigilant Solutions."

"The Chairman of the Advisory Council is Mr. Howard Safir. Mr. Safir has a long and distinguished career as Police Commissioner of New York City, Director of Operations for the United States Marshals Service, Assistant Director of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Fire Commissioner of New York City, member of the Executive Committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and Board Member of Lexis-Nexis Special Solutions, Verint Systems and Implant Sciences Corporation." (from "Vigilant Solutions Forms Advisory Council", 08 - 13 - 2012)


Democracy Now! on January 20th 2016:

"JANE MAYER: OK. I was working at The New Yorker at the time, and on January 3rd, 2011, David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, was called by the—or emailed by the two publications that wanted to go with stories saying that I was a plagiarist and supposedly had stolen lines from four different other writers. Now, nobody has ever accused me of this in my life. And the stories were things that had been out for years. And David asked me, "What is this?" I took a look at it, and I immediately realized I better call the authors and see if they have any complaints. None of them did. All of them went on the record saying, "This isn’t plagiarism. We have no complaints against Jane." And they were willing to be stand-up people and back me up. I went back to the right-wing news organizations and said, "This is false. Here are the statements from the writers." And they never published these.

But I wondered what had happened, and so did the New York Post, which was about to do a story on it. And Keith Kelly, the media reporter there, started asking, "Who’s trying to smear Jane Mayer?" And he started doing a series of stories and floating the idea that the Koch brothers were behind it, because they had been unhappy with the big piece I did about them. Anyway, it took years—really, three years—but eventually I was able to connect the dots. And you’ll see the story in this book. And amazingly, the detective that they hired to do this was the former commissioner of police in New York City, Howard Safir. And it fell flat. I mean, I’m glad to say it was—it was ridiculous. In fact, one of the stories that I was supposed to have plagiarized from, not only did I—

AMY GOODMAN: He’s supposed to put out fires, right?

JANE MAYER: Yeah, really.

AMY GOODMAN: Howard Safir was also the fire commissioner.

JANE MAYER: Well, anyway, one of the stories that I was supposed to have plagiarized from, when I called the author of it, he looked it up, and he said, "Not only did you not plagiarize from me, you credited me in the next sentence and linked to me online." And then it turned out my own husband had edited the story. It was at The Washington Post, so I guess I was supposed to be plagiarizing from my husband. I don’t know. It fell apart. But it was really ugly.

AMY GOODMAN: Did Safir admit this?

JANE MAYER: He’s been asked multiple times about it, and he has simply said, "I can’t comment."

"AMY GOODMAN: Jane, what most shocked you? I mean, you have been now investigating the Kochs and the Koch empire, what some call "The Kochtopus," for many years now. What most shocked you in writing this book that you’ve been writing for many years, Dark Money?"

Excellent article. Thanks.


Permissible purpose, who gets to define this? Probably the cops.
Lock up the criminals, who gets to define what laws are broken? Certainly the cops. Terrorism is defined as: The use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. Who espouses terrorism? Obviously the cops. Please expound on your sentence, "please lock up criminals and terrorists", who are they?


A solution would for activists to visit porn stores, gay bars, pawn shops and known drug hot spots.
And while you're at it, police stations, the nearest FBI office, the local jail, etc. "Just looking"
If it's data they want, let's give it to them!
Why not go photograph every police station within 25 miles.


Right now we put up with it.

But one day you're gonna push everyone too far. And you know you guys always do that.

JB Smith

The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act and the brain initiative are the worst scams ever perpetrated on the American people. Former U. S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin Warns: Biochips Hazardous to Your Health: Warning, biochips may cause behavioral changes and high suicide rates. State Attorney Generals are to revoke the licenses of doctors and dentists that implant chips in patients. Chip used illegally for GPS, tracking, organized crime, communication and torture. Virginia state police have been implanting citizens without their knowledge and consent for years and they are dying! Check out William and Mary’s site to see the torture
enabled by the biochip and the Active Denial System. See Terrorism and Mental Health by Amin Gadit or A Note on Uberveillance by MG & Katina Michael or Safeguards in a World of Ambient Intelligence by Springer or Mind Control,Microchip Implants and Cybernetics. Check out the audio spotlight by Holosonics. The truth is the biochip works like a sim card. It received pulsed
modulated laser beams and millimeter wave which it converts into electromagnetic waves that your brain interprets into digital images and sound. It then takes what your brain sees and hears and converts electromagnetic waves into digital and acoustic waves that a computer translates into audio and video. In other words, it allows law enforcement to see what you see, hear what you hear and communicate directly with your brain.

“Former Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) director and now Google Executive, Regina E. Dugan, has unveiled a super small, ingestible microchip that we can all be expected to swallow by 2017. “A means of authentication,” she calls it, also called an electronic tattoo, which takes NSA spying to whole new levels. She talks of the ‘mechanical mismatch problem between machines and humans,’ and specifically targets 10 – 20 year olds in her rant about the wonderful qualities of this new technology that
can stretch in the human body and still be functional. Hailed as a ‘critical shift for research and medicine,’ these biochips would not only allow full access to insurance companies and government agencies to our pharmaceutical med-taking compliancy (or lack thereof), but also a host of other aspects of our lives which are truly none of their business, and certainly an extension of the
removal of our freedoms and rights.” Google News

The ARRA authorizes payments to the states in an effort to encourage Medicaid Providers to adopt and use “certified EHR technology” aka biochips. ARRA will match Medicaid $5 for every $1 a state provides. Medicaid Expansion = Medicaid Fraud. Hospitals are paid $2 million to create “crisis stabilization wards” (Gitmo’s) where state police torture people – even unto death. They stopped my heart 90 times in 6 hours. Virginia Beach EMT’s were called to the scene. Mary E. Schloendorff, v. The Society of
New York Hospital 105 N. E. 92, 93 (N. Y. 1914) Justice Cardozo states, “every human being of adult years and sound mind has a right to determine what shall be done with his own body; and a surgeon who performs an operation without his patient’s consent, commits an assault, for which he is liable in damages. (Pratt v Davis, 224 Ill. 300; Mohr v Williams, 95 Minn. 261.) This case
precedent requires police to falsely arrest you or kidnap you and call you a mental health patient in order to force the implant on you. You can also be forced to have a biochip if you have an infectious disease – like Eboli or Aids.

Coalition of Justice vs the City of Hampton, VA settled a case out of court for $500,000 and removal of the biochip. Torture is punishable by $1,000 per day up to $2 million; Medical battery is worth $2.05 million. They told my family it was the brain
initiative. I checked with the oversight board, and it is not! Mark Warner told me it was research with the Active Denial System by the College of William and Mary, the USAF, and state and local law enforcement. It is called IBEX and it is excruciating. I have had 3 surgeries at the site of the implant and need another. It causes cancer! I've been tortured for 8 years by Virginia law enforcement. Thousands of innocent Virginians are being tortured and murdered by criminal cops. Please help us get the word out to end these heinous atrocities. The pain is 24/7. The VA DCJS, sent me a letter stating cops can get keys to anyone's home and steal anything they please. The governor knows and takes his cut. Senator Kaine said the FBI is not involved so he can't help. Check out Virginia's Casual Disregard for the Constitution at forbes dot com. Check out Richard Cain's case. They are torturing infants and children. The active denial system comes in rifle form and can murder without leaving a mark. I have had two heart attacks and am blessed to be alive. We need to make the nation aware to stop these thugs. Please help us.


There are states that require all taxes paid before registration can be renewed aka these license plate scanners target poor people. Nothing to do with safety.
Pictures of our families, our car's, our home's are all collected, organized and secured by people who have statistically targeted black and latino's? Make's sense. I will make sure to teach my kids to give the finger every time we drive by one.


May we all need to walk around with bullet proof vests and body cameras too.


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