Vehicle surveillance company's "free" deal turns Texas cops into bill-collectors

Vigilant Solutions is "one of the country's largest brokers of vehicle surveillance technology" and they've got a great deal for Texas police forces: install our license-readers and we'll alert you every time someone with an overdue fine drives through your town. You pull them over and offer them a trip to jail or immediate payment, using our credit-card machines, for which we charge a 25% "fee" which goes straight into our pockets.

It's "revenue neutral" — what could possibly go wrong?

Nothing you'll ever learn about, anyway: agencies that take the deal have to sign a contract with a "non-disparagement clause" that binds them never to discuss the company's failings. The company, meantime, gets to retain the town's license-plate data for as long as it's "commercially useful."

Oh, and sometimes Vigilant makes mistakes and sends the police after people with no outstanding fines.

You might very well ask at this point about the legality of this scheme. Vigilant anticipated that and provided the City of Kyle with a slide titled "Can I Really Do This?" which cited a law that they believe allows for the 25% surcharge.

The law states that a county or municipality "may only charge a fee for the access or service if the fee is designed to recover the costs directly and reasonably incurred in providing the access or service."

We believe that a 25% fee is not reasonable and doesn't recover just the direct costs, since the fee is actually paying for the whole ALPR system, including surveillance capabilities unrelated to warrant redemption, such as access to the giant LEARN-NVLS database and software suite.

"No Cost" License Plate Readers Are Turning Texas Police into Mobile Debt Collectors and Data Miners
[Dave Maass/EFF]