DHS Suffers Moment Of Clarity, Shuts Down Plans To Build A Nationwide License Plate Database
from the an-NSA-esque-program-would-be-perfect-for-today's-political-climate! dept
Well, that was fast. No sooner had word spread that the DHS (and ICE) were soliciting bids for a national ALPR (automatic license plate reader) database than the government has stepped forward to cancel those plans.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Wednesday ordered the cancellation of a plan by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to develop a national license-plate tracking system after privacy advocates raised concern about the initiative.
The order came just days after ICE solicited proposals from companies to compile a database of license-plate information from commercial and law enforcement tag readers. Officials said the database was intended to help apprehend fugitive illegal immigrants, but the plan raised concerns that the movements of ordinary citizens under no criminal suspicion could be scrutinized.
The (stated) reasoning behind this wasn’t the outrage the announcement generated. Instead, officials are portraying it as some sort of rogue bid solicitation, done with no one’s permission that somehow magically appeared on an official government platform.
“The solicitation, which was posted without the awareness of ICE leadership, has been cancelled,” ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said in a statement. “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.”
This itself should be concerning. If ICE leadership can’t even keep an eye on its all-too-helpful minions, one is forced to wonder how many other solicitations have “escaped” in this fashion… and how many of those turned into actual ICE/DHS programs.
But I wouldn’t dwell on the ICE’s internal failures for too long. The most plausible explanation is that someone up top at the DHS or ICE suddenly realized that publicly calling for bids on a nationwide surveillance system while nationwide surveillance systems are being hotly debated was probably a horrible idea.
This may have been put on the back burner by the agency but it’s not simply going to go away. It will return, either via a super-secret bidding system that turns the job over to favored government contractors, or further down the road, when the heat surrounding surveillance of US citizens dies down.
As it stands right now, nothing much changes for ICE. There are several ALPR contractors already in service who have collected (and continue to collect) millions of license plate records. And these can all be accessed by government agencies just as easily as they’re accessed by local law enforcement — without warrants, subpoenas or anything else that might generate a paper trail.
But don’t worry, citizens. When this inevitably returns, ICE will have your privacy in mind. After all, the bid solicitation specifies that the system must conform with the Privacy Act of 1974. Nothing says “privacy” in 2014 like a 40-year-old law, especially one loaded with convenient exceptions for law enforcement.