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February 20, 2014

Department of Homeland Security Abruptly Cancels Plans to Track License Plates


Americans are getting a little wary of being tracked by the various agencies of our government. This may be a reason (in part, at least) why the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is backing off a plan that would have seen the development of a national license plate tracking system. The move reportedly came after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) applied pressure on ICE, which operates under the DHS’s authority.

The plan would have been carried out by a network of tag readers designed to scan the license plate of every vehicle that passed by. ICE had already begun contracting vendors to seek bids for the tag readers when the DHS ordered cancellation of the plan that would have ostensibly attempted to apprehend fugitive illegal immigrants. Privacy advocates objected to the fact that this would essentially track the vehicular movements of all Americans, according to the Washington Post.

Though a spokesperson from ICE stressed that the database would be maintained by a commercial, and not governmental, enterprise and “could only be accessed in conjunction with ongoing criminal investigations or to locate wanted individuals,” civil liberties groups objected.

“Ultimately, you’re creating a national database of location information,” Jennifer Lynch, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Post. “When all that data is compiled and aggregated, you can track somebody as they’re going through their life.”

The picture gets more curious when you take into consideration that the solicitation of bids for equipment to carry out the program was initiated without the approval of ICE leadership. Some lawmakers remarked that this goof “highlights a serious management problem within this DHS component that currently does not have a director nominated by the president,” Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement.

The program would have allowed law enforcement officials and agents to snap a photo of a license plate, upload it to a smartphone and compare it against a “hot list” of plates in the database. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) indicated its approval of the cancellation, but noted that the nation still needs to have a broader conversation about the implications of databases that track ordinary Americans’ movements. 




Edited by Cassandra Tucker


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