Runaround: DHS to Purchase Access to License Plate Databases

According to a Federal Business Opportunities report posted today, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is planning to solicit proposals for a “license place commercial data reader service” later this month.

An official DHS statement says that the Department is not attempting to set up its own database, but to instead query existing data held in commercially available license plate reader databases.

That statement continues, saying:

ICE law enforcement personnel will query the [license plate reader] database using known license plate numbers associated with the aliens who are immigration enforcement priorities, based on investigative leads, to determine where and when the vehicle has travelled (sic) within a specified period of time. The results of the queries can assist in identifying the location of aliens who are immigration enforcement priorities, to include aliens with certain criminal convictions, absconders, illegal re-entrants and those that pose a public safety or national security risk.

Last year, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson put the breaks on an effort to build a national license plate tracking system after backlash about privacy concerns.  But this newest solicitation climbs just a half step below the last one, seeking to use commercially available data instead of building a database of their own.

The less authoritarian proposal still doesn’t sit well with many.  “If this goes forward, DHS will have warrantless access to location information going back at least five years about virtually every adult driver in the U.S…” said Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology.

License plate readers are nothing new.  In fact, there are billions of records on file, which are collected by private companies.  The largest database, maintained by Vigilant Solutions, contains over 2.5 billions records and collects millions more every day.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the Drug Enforcement Agency, already commonly use license plate reader data.  And license plate reader systems, which are easily mounted on patrol cars, are becoming popular with state and local law enforcement agencies.

At the heart of this debate isn’t whether or not these systems can catch criminals, but what happens when they begin to create criminals.  After targeting of Patriot groups by the IRS, who will guarantee that other data won’t be abused by other government entities?

(Analyst Comment: This data, commercially available or not, will help build patterns of life for millions of Americans.  Combined with cell phone data, which reports your location via nearby cell towers, federal, state, and local entities will have around the clock, up to the second reports on your movements and location.  And most, if not all, of this data will be kept indefinitely.  This information makes targeting political groups just as easy as targeting criminals.  We’re inching closer to growing a police state capable of instituting one party rule, which is the end goal for police state proponents.  Instead of policing the conditions that create criminality, politicians are much more interested in increasing their own power by policing the symptoms of their own policies.)

File under: Police State Watch



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