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Surveillance Vendor Targets HOAs, Giving Police Backdoor Access

An Atlanta-based vendor of license plate readers and other surveillance tools has targeted homeowners associations' lush budgets and lax official oversight to expand private surveillance that can be turned over to police without residents' knowledge, the Intercept reports. Flock Safety has grown in value to $3.5 billion, partly on the strength of its sales to private HOAs that in turn grant police departments access to their gated communities. More than 200 HOAs nationwide have bought and installed Flock's license plate readers.


In Lakeway, Tex., the police chief and the Rough Hollow HOA signed off on a deal that gave the police access to Flock's license plate surveillance of the private community's roads. Residents only learned of the surveillance when the mayor brought it to their attention. By then, the surveillance system had notified the police department over a dozen times. Neighbors in Atlanta remained in the dark for a year after cameras were put up. In Lake County, Fla., nearly 100 cameras went up “overnight like mushrooms,” according to one county commissioner, without a permit. After facing public outrage, the cameras were removed from communities in Texas and Florida, but Flock’s license plate readers continue to rapidly proliferate from cities in Missouri to Kentucky. HOAs are private entities and therefore are not subject to public records requests or regulation. The majority of the readers are hooked up to Flock’s TALON network, which allows police to track cars within their own neighborhoods, as well as access a nationwide system of license plate readers that scan approximately a billion images of vehicles a month. Camera owners can also create their own “hot lists” of plate numbers that generate alarms when scanned and will run them in state police watchlists and the FBI’s primary criminal database, the National Crime Information Center. “What are the consequences if somebody abuses the system?” said Dave Maass, director of investigations at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “There are repercussions of having this data, and you don’t have that kind of accountability when it comes to a homeowners association.”

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