Homeland Security cancels plans for license-tracking system

February 19
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. (AP/Carolyn Kaster).
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. (AP/Carolyn Kaster).

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Wednesday canceled a plan by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to seek a national license plate tracking system.

The cancellation came in the wake of a story by The Washington Post Wednesday that reported on an ICE solicitation for a company to compile a database of license plate information from commercial and law enforcement tag readers.

“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.”

The idea behind the national license-plate recognition database, which would have drawn data from readers that scan the tags of every vehicle crossing their paths, was to help catch fugitive illegal immigrants, according to the DHS solicitation. But the plan raised concerns that the movements of ordinary citizens who are under no criminal suspicion could be scrutinized.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, applauded Johnson’s decision on Wednesday. “I am pleased that DHS realized its error and has withdrawn the solicitation for a ‘National License Plate Recognition Database’,” he said in a statement. “The solicitation called for a large amount of personally identifiable information to be collected and used by ICE – all without apparent privacy and civil liberties safeguards or impact assessments.”

Thompson said management problems allowed the solicitation to go forward without approval from the agency’s leadership. He said ICE needs a director nominated by President Obama.

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