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Motorola Solutions Buys Major License-Plate-Reading Company

The company, Vigilant Solutions, has attracted some controversy for the way customers use its product. It has also pursued facial recognition technology, a concern for civil rights groups.

Motorola Solutions, a major player in public safety technology, has acquired a company whose license-plate-reading technology has stirred up controversy in recent years.

According to a press release, Motorola Solutions paid $445 million for VaaS International Holdings, the parent company of Vigilant Solutions. Vigilant offers license plate readers to law enforcement, which allows for passive, constant, automated license plate checks — as opposed to the more manual process of police calling in to a command center to check on license plates, Vigilant’s technology will scan the plates of passing vehicles, check them in databases and then create alerts when there’s a hit. Police can also search the license plate logs to locate a specified vehicle, giving them a tool to track down suspects.

“Automated license plate recognition is an increasingly powerful tool for law enforcement,” said Greg Brown, chairman and CEO of Motorola Solutions, in the statement. “With this acquisition, VaaS will expand our command center software portfolio with the largest shareable database of vehicle location information that can help shorten response times and improve the speed and accuracy of investigations.”

It’s an approach that has come with some criticism, since U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has used it to find undocumented immigrants it is targeting for deportation — a politically charged issue, especially in “sanctuary cities” that have policies against providing information to ICE. Last year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation spoke out against Sacramento County, Calif.’s use of Vigilant for welfare fraud investigation.

Vigilant also offers facial recognition technology, which the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups have criticized for its potential to elevate police surveillance to ever-higher levels of thoroughness.

The data creation and analytics processes involved in those technologies fit right in with a lot of what Motorola Solutions has been doing all along — it’s one of the largest providers of computer-aided dispatch, records management and 911 systems in the market. Those are the kinds of systems law enforcement uses to wrangle data. Motorola Solutions also provides body-worn cameras, which is a target for facial recognition technology since police officers wearing the devices naturally capture video of the faces of people they interact with.

VaaS International Holdings also owns Digital Recognition Network, which is angled at private-sector markets such as insurance and financial services. Motorola Solutions expects VaaS’ 2019 revenue to hit about $100 million, according to the statement.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.