Immigration and Customs Enforcement has landed on a contract to gain access to a national database of license plates, a move the agency says will support its investigations.
The contract for a commercially available license plate reader database notes the agency "is neither seeking to build nor contribute to a national public or private LPR database." The contract was awarded to West Publishing (TRSS) in partnership with Vigilant Solutions, ICE confirmed.
The move concerned some activists regarding the implications of the immigration enforcement agency's ability to search for all times an individual license plate has been picked up by readers. But such a capability is not unusual for law enforcement agencies to have.
While ICE is largely known for its role in arresting and deporting undocumented immigrants in the US, the agency has a broad law enforcement function, including as one of the chief federal agencies investigating transnational crime, including gangs, smuggling and counterfeit goods.
"Like most other law enforcement agencies, ICE uses information obtained from license plate readers as one tool in support of its investigations," ICE spokesperson Dani Bennett said in a statement. "ICE conducts both criminal investigations and civil immigration enforcement investigations. ICE is not seeking to build a license plate reader database, and will not collect nor contribute any data to a national public or private database through this contract."
ICE had tried to solicit such a database in 2014, but due to privacy concerns, canceled the solicitation and conducted a privacy impact assessment. Bennett noted the new contract must comply with that assessment, which she said has "the most stringent requirements known to have been applied for the use of this technology."