US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has reportedly come up with a new way of tracking those who are in the US illegally.
In a new report, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the agency has set up a large, privately maintained database tracking license plate numbers and driver location data.
The nonprofit organization says the database is maintained by Vigilant Solutions and contains billions of location points. Vigilant Solutions is maintaining the system on a $6.1 million contract.
"ICE has long embraced technology to target immigrants," writes ACLU attorney Vasudha Talla.
"Now it's taking surveillance to an unprecedented level to target vulnerable communities—and sweeping up everyone else in the process."
So far, authorities have shared 1.5 billion records on driver whereabouts obtained through covert cameras that capture license plate numbers in order to track criminals or those who have committed traffic offenses, says the ACLU.
The cameras are mounted on police squad cars, road signs and bridges to capture location information on all passing vehicles.
The database is receiving an average of 150 million to 200 million unique license plate snapshots every month.
The system enables ICE to monitor people's entry and exit to cities over the course of several years.
Over 9,000 ICE officers have access to the database, raising serious concerns over the privacy of the immigrants tracked as well as millions of drivers whose personal details are at their disposal.
"The agency does not use the information to find individuals who have no connection to ICE investigatory or enforcement activities," ICE spokesman Matthew Bourke tells The Washington Post.
Many "sanctuary cities" such as New York City and Los Angeles, have laws prohibiting police cooperation with ICE agents.
However, ICE is disregarding the laws to obtain location records and track immigrants for deportation.
One of the emails obtained by ACLU shows a friendly exchange between an ICE officer and a detective in Orange County, California.
In the email, the detective is freely sharing location data over the course of several years to the ICE agent.
"Hate to ask, but would you mind running 2 more?" asks the ICE officer in their most recent published message.
"Come on, you really don't hate to ask.. :)" replied the detective, attaching scan information on two illegal immigrant suspects.
The contract with Vigilant Solutions commenced in February 2018 and is ICE's third attempt to land such an agreement after the first, in 2014, was quashed by the Department of Homeland Security over privacy concerns.