Department of Homeland Security Wants License Plate Tracking Technology

By Elizabeth Wasserman | February 19, 2014

The federal agency overseeing immigration and customs is seeking technology that would find fugitives and undocumented immigrants using license plates, according to a document posted on a U.S. website.

The Department of Homeland Security is asking private companies for proposals to build a database to “track vehicle license plate numbers that pass through cameras or are voluntarily entered into the system from a variety of sources,” and shared with law enforcement agencies, according to the solicitation.

DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency will use the National License Plate Recognition database “to assist in the location and arrest of absconders and criminal aliens,” according to the proposal. The agency said the technology will reduce man-hours to conduct surveillance and enhance safety of officers.

The proposal, first reported by the Washington Post today, doesn’t outline any privacy safeguards for the technology. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union have raised questions about whether such tools will be used by governments to keep tabs on innocent Americans.

“License plate readers are just one example of a disturbing phenomenon: the government is increasingly using new technology to collect information about all of us, all the time, and to store it forever,” the ACLU’s Catherine Crump wrote in a report in July, after the group analyzed more than 26,000 pages of documents from police departments in cities and towns across the country that capture license-plate information.

‘Investigative Leads’

Local law enforcement agencies obtain photos of license plates at different locations to help locate stolen cars or to carry out arrest warrants, the group said.

The DHS system would let officers query the database with license plate numbers “based on investigative leads to determine where and when the vehicle has traveled,” the solicitation said. The agency wants the database to provide 24- hour, seven days per week access.

The agency’s proposal was made public Feb. 12 on Federal Business Opportunities, a government website for federal contractors. Responses are due March 14.

(Editors: Elizabeth Wasserman, Steve Geimann)

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