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.
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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 data would have been drawn from readers that scan the tags of every vehicle crossing their paths, and would have been accessed only for “ongoing criminal investigations or to locate wanted individuals,” officials told The Washington Post this week.
“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.”
Lawmakers and privacy advocates reacted with approval.
The fact that the solicitation was posted without knowledge of ICE leadership “highlights a serious management problem within this DHS component that currently does not have a director nominated by the president,” Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (Miss.), the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement. He added that he hopes officials will consult with the department’s privacy and civil liberties officers in the future.