DHS eyes service to track license plates

DHS eyes service to track license plates
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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is offering up a contract for companies to keep track of people’s license plates.

The department’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) posted a draft solicitation on Thursday, slightly more than a year after the department scuttled a previous attempt to create a license plate tracking system over fears it could infringe on people’s privacy.

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The new request, which was first reported by The Washington Post, makes clear that the department “is neither seeking to build nor contribute to a national” license plate reading system. Instead, it wants to use a preexisting commercial service to help track down people suspected of violating the country’s immigration and other laws. 

License plate reader systems, which are used by police, parking garages, repossession companies and others, use high-speed cameras to automatically take pictures of a vehicle’s tags as well as information about the vehicle and its location.

“ICE has identified a number of benefits from the use of [license place reader] data in its mission activities,” it said in an analysis of the privacy impacts of the new service.

“When there is an investigative need, commercial [license plate reader] data provides a useful piece of information to help locate the subjects of enforcement actions and investigations,” it added.

The agency said it was “mindful” of privacy concerns about the system and will “build constraints” into its use to protect privacy rights.

Last year, the DHS briefly attempted to develop a system of its own to track license plates, but abandoned the effort in light of loud concerns about how it would be used.

Still, multiple other government agencies have tools to scan and track vehicles’ license plates.

Earlier this year, leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee said they were “concerned” about a Drug Enforcement Agency program that tracks vehicles around the U.S.-Mexico border, which they said could be used to target people and seize their assets.