The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency typically referred to as ICE has now gained full access to the country's technology-driven License Plate Reader (LPR) database. That's according to a new listing posted on the U.S. government's federal business opportunities (FBO) site as of January 8. The government contract – awarded under contract 70CDCR18P00000017 – was originally granted back in December. The move has raised some concerns about government overreach, following what has been a comparatively hectic year in terms of immigration and immigration reforms.
The main concern stems from the fact that there seems to be a degree of secrecy about the contract itself. For its part, ICE representatives have claimed that they do not plan to add or contribute to that database or to build out its own database using data collected from the current database. However, Vigilant Solutions is primarily responsible for the database – which is currently thought to house over 2 billion license plate photos taken from private organizations and camera-equipped police cars – and has reportedly declined to comment about whether any contractual agreement had even been reached. Although the current understanding of how vehicles are accessed in the database may not be too bothersome for most, the fear is that there will not be enough oversight. As the system currently works, ICE could either query for vehicles captured in the past or tag license plates to receive alerts about database entries – including metadata about the date, time, and GPS coordinates it was found at. That would presumably allow the agency to track vehicles associated with violations of the policies that it enforces.
Having said that opponents to the idea may not be entirely wrong to be concerned. That's especially true with the rise of smart infrastructure, the possibility that municipalities could feasibly become involved in the database itself, and the lack of details about the contract itself. Those developments and a lack of oversight could allow the agency – and eventually, by precedence, other agencies – the ability to perform real-time location tracking of a substantial portion of the U.S. population. Moreover, with consideration for the jump in 2017's warrantless electronics and device searches at the border, there may not be much reason to suspect that the new contract won't be used liberally. Unfortunately, given the current political climate in the country, the issues surrounding the contract aren't likely to be solved anytime soon, either.