Public Safety & Justice

DHS Seeking National License-Plate Tracking System

February 19, 2014
 

The Department of Homeland Security wants a private company to provide a national license-plate tracking system that would give the agency access to vast amounts of information from commercial and law enforcement tag readers, according to a government proposal that does not specify what privacy safeguards would be put in place.

The national license-plate recognition database, which would draw data from readers that scan the tags of every vehicle crossing their paths, would help catch fugitive illegal immigrants, according to a DHS solicitation. But the database could easily contain more than 1 billion records and could be shared with other law enforcement agencies, raising concerns that the movements of ordinary citizens who are under no criminal suspicion could be scrutinized.

A spokeswoman for DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) stressed that the database “could only be accessed in conjunction with ongoing criminal investigations or to locate wanted individuals.”

The database would enhance agents’ and officers’ ability to locate suspects who could pose a threat to public safety and would reduce the time required to conduct surveillance, ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said.

“It is important to note that this database would be run by a commercial enterprise, and the data would be collected and stored by the commercial enterprise, not the government,” she said.

But civil liberties groups are not assuaged. “Ultimately, you’re creating a national database of location information,” said Jennifer Lynch, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “When all that data is compiled and aggregated, you can track somebody as they’re going through their life.”

ICE issued a notice last week seeking bids from companies to compile the database from a variety of sources, including law ­enforcement agencies and car-

repossession services.

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