Homeland Security reverses course on license plate database

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has cancelled plans for a contract with a private company to build a national license plate database that would have helped the agency pursue fugitive criminal immigrants and other wanted persons.

The contract proposal was issued just last week and was cancelled by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson hours after the Washington Postpublished a story about it.

DHS wanted a private company to build a database using information from license-plate readers employed by both local police and commercial companies using cameras that capture photos of vehicles. It would have allowed agents to quickly compare license plate information against a “hot list” that tracks wanted individuals.

Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said that her agency’s leadership was not aware the contract request had been posted.

"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," Christensen said.

Privacy advocates who were concerned the system would amount to a way for the federal government to track Americans in their everyday lives praised the move to cancel the contract solicitation but said that they were still concerned about what might happen going forward.

“While it is good news that DHS has canceled the solicitation, there are many other law enforcement agencies around the country that are already accessing these vast private databases of plate data,” Catherine Crump, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Post.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.