Homeland Security looking to build National License Plate Database

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) posted a solicitation last week seeking contractor submissions to build and operate a massive database that would allow federal, state and local law enforcement officials to upload images of license plates that could assist federal agents in criminal investigations.

“The database should track vehicle license plate numbers that pass through cameras or are voluntarily entered into the system from a variety of sources (access control systems, asset recovery specialists, etc.) and uploaded to share with law enforcement,” DHS wrote in its 29-page solicitation. “[National License Plate Recognition database] information will be used by DHS/ICE to assist in the location and arrest of absconders and criminal aliens.”

“Officers should be able to query the NLPR database with license plate numbers based on investigative leads to determine where and when the vehicle has traveled. This information will assist in locating criminal aliens and absconders, and will enhance officer safety by enabling arrests to occur away from a subject’s residence. The use of NLPR will reduce the man-hours required to conduct surveillance,” DHS added.

The solicitation calls for the development of smartphone technology that would allow law enforcement officers to upload an image of a license plate. If there is a match, the smartphone app will alert the officer via a notification.

The national license plate database wouldn’t be limited to what officers add to the database through the smartphone app. The solicitation also mentions the use of the technology to mine images from traffic cameras.

There is no mention of privacy protections in the DHS solicitation guidelines, nor the purge or deletion of records not related to ongoing criminal investigations. A DHS spokeswoman told ArsTechnica that the database “could only be accessed in conjunction with ongoing criminal investigations.” If that line sounds familiar it’s because it’s used by those who defend the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance programs.

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