Tens of thousands of license plates were recorded at a BART station and stored in a database that could have been accessed by federal immigration officials, the transit agency revealed Thursday.
Privacy and immigration advocates said the action contradicts BART’s sanctuary policy, and BART’s police chief said the license plate reader was taken down from the MacArthur station parking lot after police had realized it had been accidentally turned on.
The camera is now sitting in storage somewhere. But that has not quelled the concerns.
"I don’t think how many times I park at MacArthur BART is any of the business of the Department of Homeland Security, and I’m a citizen," rider Tracy Rosenberg of Albany said.
Rosenberg uses BART nearly every day. She’s 100 percent certain BART police snapped a picture of her license plate and stored that information in a database last year.
"I’m absolutely positive that it’s there because I did park at MacArthur BART during that period of time," she said.
In 2015, BART police had set up a license plate reader in the parking lot with the intention of stopping car thieves. But the BART board stopped police from using it, until a surveillance policy was put in place. BART police Chief Carlos Rojas admitted someone activated the technology by accident.
"There were license plates of individuals that entered the BART parking lot that were transmitted and shared and subsequently deleted from the system," Rojas said.
That information was shared with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, which can also share information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The center’s director said ICE could have accessed the information only if it was looking for a person who was wanted for a violent crime.
"There are a lot of things that we have to explain as directors to our constituents," BART Director Bevan Dufty said.
ICE released a statement, saying in part, "The agency does not specifically quantify what method of intelligence they use that leads to each arrest."