Good news: Uncle Sam's terrorist-watchin' lawmen would like a database that shows the whereabouts of every car with a license plate that's recently been scanned by a government tag reader. Does that freak you out? Here's better news: They want a private contractor to run it.
The Department of Homeland Security wants a private company to provide a national license-plate tracking system that would give the agency access to vast amounts of information from commercial and law enforcement tag readers, according to a government proposal that does not specify what privacy safeguards would be put in place.
The national license-plate recognition database, which would draw data from readers that scan the tags of every vehicle crossing their paths, would help catch fugitive illegal immigrants, according to a DHS solicitation. But the database could easily contain more than 1 billion records and could be shared with other law enforcement agencies, raising concerns that the movements of ordinary citizens who are under no criminal suspicion could be scrutinized.
A DHS spokeswoman insists the database would only be accessible "in conjunction with ongoing criminal investigations or to locate wanted individuals," which must be terribly comforting in light of how much care another federal bureaucracy—the National Security Agency—takes with citizens' identifying data.
But hey, the spokeswoman continued, this is totally different from that, because "this database would be run by a commercial enterprise, and the data would be collected and stored by the commercial enterprise, not the government." Whew!
In fact, the only reason this is news now is because some enterprising readers (read: anti-government preppers) picked up on a government search for vendors to do the dirty work:
ICE issued a notice last week seeking bids from companies to compile the database from a variety of sources, including law enforcement agencies and car-repossession services.
Agents would be able to use a smartphone to snap pictures of license plates that could be compared against a "hot list" of plates in the database. They would have 24-hour, seven-day-a-week access, according to the solicitation, which was first noted last week by bloggers.
What could go wrong?