DHS abandons plans to collect and store nationwide license-plate data

A proposal by the Department of Homeland Security to create a national database of data collected from license-plate scanners has been dropped. The department announced that it had stopped seeking bids from private companies to build the database and was officially distancing itself from the proposal.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Gillian Christensen, a deputy press secretary at the agency, confirmed via email that top officials at DHS had not been informed that solicitation for bids were occurring. “The solicitation, which was posted without the awareness of ICE leadership, has been canceled,” wrote Christensen, adding, “While we continue to support a range of technologies to help meet our law enforcement mission, this solicitation will be reviewed to ensure the path forward appropriately meets our operational needs.”

The blame for the proposed scheme lands at the door of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which had intended the database to be used to track undocumented immigrants and to find wanted criminals. It had invited companies to submit proposals to offer a database to “track vehicle license plate numbers that pass through cameras or are voluntarily entered into the system from a variety of sources,” which would also be accessible by law enforcement.

The ACLU was one of many groups to question the privacy implications of the proposed scheme, which — it was feared — could be used to track the everyday lives of millions of American drivers, learning their daily habits by tracking their vehicular movements. The ACLU’s Catherine Crump, a staff attorney at the organization, stated, “Where people go can reveal a great deal about them… I think Americans have good reason to be concerned about the DHS proposal.”

According to the Associated Press, 14 states are considering restricting “surveillance efforts, including the use of license-plate readers” via legislation. License-plate scanners are already widely used by law enforcement, as well as private companies.

Image Credit: Associated Press

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's assistant editor and covers cars, technology, and gaming. He is usually found with a controller in one hand and a smartphone in the other, and can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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