Tags: Homeland Security | license plate | tracking system | ICE

DHS Renews Plan for Access to License Plate Tracking System

Friday, 03 Apr 2015 10:26 AM

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has renewed a controversial plan that would allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials searching for fugitive illegal immigrants to have access to a national license plate tracking system.

A year after abandoning a similar proposal over privacy issues, the department is seeking bids from companies to make such a system available to ICE, a DHS agency, according to The Washington Post.

The DHS reversed itself after realizing it could address fears from civil liberties activists and lawmakers about the dangers of the agency having large-scale access, without warrants, to a system that holds mass data on drivers' whereabouts, the newspaper noted.

The agency wants to pay companies that already record such information data to say how much they would charge to grant access to ICE officers. But DHS would impose strict limits on how much access ICE officials would have to the license plate tracking system.

"These restrictions will provide essential privacy and civil liberty protections, while enhancing our agents' and officers' ability to locate and apprehend suspects who could pose a threat to national security and public safety," said the department's spokeswoman Marsha Catron.

A year ago the DHS proposed to develop a national license plate tracking system that would scan plates of drivers in cities across the country, which would then go into a national database.

Although the agency stated the purpose was to help locate runaway illegal immigrants, the plan came under fire from privacy rights groups and was eventually shelved.

Civil liberties advocates who studied the agency's new "privacy impact assessment" said the restrictions still threatened Americans' privacy, the Post reported.

"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., and sometimes to their image as well," said Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology.

Under the proposed limits, ICE agents will have to enter the type of crime associated with each application for information from the tracking system, and there will be random audits to guarantee that agents are not using the database to research information on personal associates, said the Post.

The rules would also stipulate that ICE cannot share its information with other agencies, unless they are working on a joint investigation. But ICE will be able to add plate numbers of interest on an "alert list," allowing its personnel to be informed immediately when a plate is spotted.

Ginger McCall, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center's Open Government Project, said the proposed limitations on ICE officials are not "meaningful."

McCall also slammed the data retention requirements as "exceedingly vague" and said tracking a person through "alert lists" without a warrant is disturbing, the Post reported.

"This is a step in the right direction, but it's not nearly strong enough, given the particular acute privacy and civil liberties issues implicated by locational data," McCall said.

The largest commercial license plate database is owned by Vigilant Solutions, which has more than 2.5 billion records and grows by 2.7 million records a day, the Post added.

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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has renewed a controversial plan that would allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials searching for fugitive illegal immigrants to have access to a national license plate tracking system.
Homeland Security, license plate, tracking system, ICE
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2015-26-03
Friday, 03 Apr 2015 10:26 AM
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