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Homeland Security drops plans to solicit license plate data from private company

Jeh Johnson
Department of Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security has done a u-turn by dropping plans to use license plate data collected by a private company that would “virtually allow them to track an average citizen’s every move.”

Police already use license plate readers, cameras that take rapid-fire photos of vehicles and their license plates as they go by, while many municipalities incorporate them as “red light” cameras to monitor traffic violations. Not only do the devices record the plate number, they also record the date, time and location of the vehicle at the time the picture was snapped, causing concern among privacy advocates throughout the country regarding unchecked monitoring by both the government and (unknown) other agencies.

According to Homeland Secretary Jeh (pronounced Jay) Johnson, the department’s plan was to “enable Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to use license plate information to pursue criminal immigrants and other individuals sought by authorities.” However, he ordered it canceled after it was discovered that the contract solicitation had been posted “without the awareness of ICE leadership.”

In the meantime ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen released a statement saying that "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."