The Department of Homeland Security is set to activate a national license plate tracking system that will be shared with law enforcement, allowing DHS officers to take photos of any license plate using their smartphone and upload it to a database which will include a “hot list” of “target vehicles”.
The system will “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” in order to help locate “criminal aliens and absconders.”
In other countries that have activated license plate tracking networks, such as the United Kingdom, political activists have been targeted by having their vehicles added to a “hotlist” after attending protests. One example led to a man being questioned under anti-terror laws after he traveled to take part in an anti-war demonstration
Critics of the system in Australia have condemned it as “a Pandora’s box for abuse of power, mistakes and illegal disclosure,” stressing that the technology allows authorities to record “your number plate at a certain time and location,” allowing police to “compile an extraordinary amount of data about you. This includes your name, address, contact details, driving history and licence status.
The DHS’ database will allow authorities “to determine where and when the vehicle has traveled,” using data compiled “from a variety of sources nationwide,” including “metropolitan areas” within the United States, suggesting the system may be linked in with regular surveillance cameras as it is in the UK
The system will also allow DHS officials to take a picture of any license plate via their smartphone, upload it to the database and immediately receive an alert if the plate is on the watchlist