Civil libertarians say such a project would have no “clearly defined purpose.”

by Cyrus Farivar – Feb 15 2014, 10:17am EST

According to a new job advertisement posted this week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is currently seeking a contractor to build and operate a national license plate reader database.

While license plate readers are on the rise by federal and local law enforcement agencies, they typically are not linked together into a one-stop shop beyond federally-funded “fusion centers,” which depend on local data. Apparently that is not enough for the feds anymore.

The DHS further posted a 29-page document outlining its requirements, including “featuring Smartphone technology based application for at least one Smartphone type, i.e. Android/iPhone/BlackBerry etc. currently in use by [Department of Homeland Security / Immigration and Customs Enforcement] allowing for license plate pictures to be taken and uploaded. Any positive matches shall return to the Smartphone an alert notification indicating to the User a positive match.”

“In support of its public safety focus, ICE, consistent with other law enforcement agency practice, is exploring the ability to obtain access to a National License Plate Recognition database—allowing officers and agents to identify subjects of ongoing criminal investigations,” Gillian Christensen, a DHS spokesperson, told Ars. “The database could only be accessed in conjunction with ongoing criminal investigations.”

Fred Cate, a law professor at Indiana University, told Ars that he found this effort to be “deeply disturbing.”

“A classic example of expanding data collection and centralization, concerning people who have done nothing to warrant suspicion, without a clearly defined purpose or the legally required privacy impact analysis,” he said. “‘Build it first and worry about privacy and purpose later’—it is the same disease that has infected the NSA and so much of our government. This type of dragnet search is the modern equivalent of the general search that [the Constitution’s] framers were so anxious to guard against.”