Criminal Justice

Where were you yesterday? Uncle Sam may soon know: Feds plan national license-plate tracking system

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Update: The Department of Homeland Security ordered that this plan be canceled.

The Department of Homeland Security is focusing on immigration law violators as it seeks a contractor to create a national database of license-plate tracking information.

But there’s no reason why information about where license plates were photographed couldn’t be shared much more widely, according to Reason’s Hit & Run blog and the Washington Post (reg. req.).

Already in use by many law enforcement agencies throughout the country, license-plate tracking systems photograph personal and commercial vehicles and then store the information in computerized databases. However, it appears that the DHS plan could be the first overarching federal program to compile information nationally.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency spokeswoman emphasized that a commercial organization, rather than the government, would be in charge of securing the information and told the Post that ICE will use the database only to pursue criminal investigations and locate individuals wanted for arrest.

Privacy advocates still see a risk to ordinary citizens, however.

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

See also: “License-plate-reader businesses file First Amendment suit over new Utah privacy law” “ACLU Asks Law Enforcement Agencies to Explain How Automatic License Plate Reader Data Is Used” “Kansas City Police Say 7M License Plate Shots Showing Date, Time and Location Are a Public Record”

Updated Feb. 20 to link to subsequent coverage.

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