The U.S. 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, says a federal proposal reported by the Washington Post 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, says a federal solicitation. The database could 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 suspicion could be scrutinized.
A spokeswoman for the 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 help agents 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. Civil liberties groups are unpersuaded. “Ultimately, you're creating a national database of location information,” said Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “When all that data is compiled and aggregated, you can track somebody as they're going through their life.”