The DHS and Its Proposed License Plate Tracking System

The Department of Homeland Security is proposing a national license-plate tracking system that would use scanners to read the tags on cars and trucks that pass in front of them, helping authorities learn information about the occupants of the vehicles. The intended purpose of this tracking system would essentially be to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement in capturing illegal immigrants who have active federal warrants.

Critics have expressed concern, however, that the database used to record the information gathered from these tracking devices has the capacity to store over one billion records. With the number of fugitive illegal immigrants in the country numbering only in the tens, or perhaps hundreds of thousands at the very most, many claim that the DHS may actually be looking to use the system to track US citizens who have no criminal record, nor under any suspicion.

Spokespersons for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, which falls under the jurisdiction of the DHS, have claimed that the database would be monitored by a commercial enterprise as opposed to the federal government or any agency therein. But that argument hasn’t done much to the ease concerns of certain civil liberties organizations, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, whose representatives say that the system is essentially a collection of information that allows anyone with access to it to track ordinary citizens at any time.

Proponents of the system point out the effectiveness of a similar method used to track immigration offenders, known as the National Vehicle Location Service. This service has been used to locate several fugitive illegals throughout the United States who had managed to skirt deportation orders. But questions remain about the new tracking system, and in particular about how long the information collected by it would be stored. Regardless of the noble intentions of the DHS in using the tracking system, critics are well aware that such a database has tremendous potential to be abused.

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