Civil Liberties

DHS: License Plate Tracking Scheme? We Know Nothing! And Now It's Canceled.


Federal license plate
Public Domain

Perhaps daylight does send the cockraches scurrying, after all. After a chorus of outrage over a Department of Homeland Security solicitation for bids to establish and maintain "a National License Plate Recognition (NLPR) database service," the feds now claim the whole project was unauthorized by DHS or by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in whose name it had been posted.

Damn those rogue federal solicitations.

In a statement, Gillian Christensen, a Deputy Press Secretary at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, wrote:

The solicitation, which was posted without the awareness of ICE leadership, has been canceled. 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 allegedly unauthorized solicitation for a database that would "track vehicle license plate numbers that pass through cameras or are voluntarily entered into the system from a variety of sources" excited widespread opposition from civil liberties advocates, especially since it included no reference to privacy protections. Despite ICE's role, the system was clearly not meant to be confined to the borders, and called for "records from metropolitan areas within the US."

Even after the cancellation, the Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation cautions:

However, DHS may still be accessing national license plate data—collected by the private company Vigilant Solutions—on an ad hoc basis. According to documents obtained by the ACLU of Massachusetts, ICE agents and other branches of DHS have been tapping into Vigilant's data sets for years.

Whether that ad hoc access to license plate tracking involvess "the awareness of ICE leadership" is anybody's guess.