DHS seeks bids for access to license-plate tracking systems

The Department of Homeland Security wants access to data about when and where suspects have traveled, and it could get that information from a license-plate tracking system. According to The Washington Post, the DHS first sought a private company that gathers location data in February last year. But it soon pulled back because of the backlash from advocates of privacy and civil liberties who pointed out that access to a commercial tracking system would allow field officers to pinpoint the location of millions of citizens who commute everyday. Now, a year later, the DHS is back with a new solicitation – that this time it says can both meet its goal and protect citizen privacy.

Law enforcement agencies like the FBI and the DEA already use license-plate tracking. The DHS wants access for its Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency, so it's asking for bids from database companies to see how much they would charge field officers. While commercial databases are not bound by limitations on the number of years they can hold on to the data, the DHS will be imposing a five-year limit. And access will be crime-based – agents will need to punch in the details of the associated crime to get the information. Where the red flag for privacy advocates comes in, is an "alert list" for people of interest. It gives the department "warrantless" access to drivers, and many argue that's too low of a legal threshold for data that can easily reveal so much about anyone targeted.