OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — A citizens’ group in Oakland said that BART put lives at risk when it confessed that it sent license plate numbers to a database that ICE could access, despite the fact that the Board of Directors told them not to do so.
The coalition called Oakland Privacy said it made the discovery. The group uncovered that BART was using license plate readers at MacArthur station and was sending that information to the database, which ICE had access to from January until August of last year.
“Through a public record request–actually for something different–we noticed that BART was sending data to this federal fusion center,” said Brian Hofer, a member of Oakland Privacy.
More than 57,000 total license plate numbers were sent, according to Oakland Privacy. Up to 20,000 were sent after the BART board adopted its “safe transit” or “sanctuary” policy that bars its employees from taking part in federal immigration laws.
“It’s disappointing to me because our values have been around sanctuary and safe transit for individuals,” said BART director Bevan Dufty.
BART board members, including Dufty, said they had no idea that the information was being sent to the database until the Bay Area News Group broke the story on Wednesday.
“They ignored a unanimous board vote not to do that and they did it anyway. That’s a really big deal that no one has taken responsibility for,” said Dufty.
BART released a statement Wednesday saying that the cameras were “accidentally activated” and that “it’s still unclear when this exactly happened.”
The statement read, “We don’t know if ICE even got the information. This article is just to tee up the surveillance policy that will be discussed by the BART Board of Directors tomorrow.”
The policy, if passed, requires staff to inform the board of new surveillance technology before it’s used.
“In light of this information, it makes me that much more comfortable in saying, ‘Yes, let’s make it an ordinance not simply a policy,'” said Dufty.
Brian Hofer said he didn’t believe that the cameras were accidentally turned on.
It was Hofer and the Oakland Privacy Coalition who told BART’s police chief about the cameras. The chief had them shut off immediately, but Hofer said it was already too little, too late.
“BART cannot guarantee that those 57,000 people were not ever at risk. BART cannot guarantee that no one was deported because of the information they shared,” said Hofer.
A BART spokesperson said they put the surveillance cameras in storage and asked the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center to delete the data. Hofer said he spoke to that agency and believes that the information was erased.
The BART board will meet Thursday morning to discuss whether to adopt the policy that requires staff to present new surveillance technology to the board before it’s installed.