Homeland Security Looking To Build Massive License Plate Tracking System

In news that is both disturbing and not at all surprising, the Department of Homeland Security is currently asking private contractors to bid on a system that would create a National License Plate Recognition database that could allow various forms of law enforcement to track the movements of drivers, whether they are suspected of a crime or just going to buy a Big Gulp at 7-Eleven.

The Washington Post got its hands on the request for bids [PDF], which outlines the system requirements but doesn’t really provide any guidelines for privacy or security of info.

Reads the document:

“The database should track vehicle license plate numbers that pass through cameras or are voluntarily entered into the system from a variety of sources… and uploaded to share with law enforcement. NLPR information will be used by DHS/ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to assist in the location and arrest of absconders and criminal aliens. Officers should be able to query the NLPR database with license plate numbers based on investigative leads to determine where and when the vehicle has traveled. This information will assist in locating criminal aliens and absconders, and will enhance officer safety by enabling arrests to occur away from a subject’s residence. The use of NLPR will reduce the man-hours required to conduct surveillance.”

And while the bid request provides a great level of detail on the government’s wishlist for the NLPR database — 24/7 access, unlimited tech support, smartphone apps for users — the apparent lack of concern for discretion and privacy may be cause for concern.

But not to worry, as a rep for ICE tells the Post that the NLPR “could only be accessed in conjunction with ongoing criminal investigations or to locate wanted individuals,” and 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.”

As you’d expect, such assurances don’t really deal with the bigger issue — that the government wants to create a massive database that could be used to track the movements of drivers.

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

The bid request also doesn’t give specifics on how long information will be stored, which agencies would have direct access to NLPR, and what exactly would constitute a justified use of the system to track a driver.

“This is yet another example of the government’s appetite for tools of mass surveillance,” said Catherine Crump, staff attorney for the ACLU.

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