The pushback from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency’s request for bids to build a national database of all license plate data now being collected elsewhere across the country was immediate and, for the moment at least, effective: Within a week the agency withdrew its request.
ICE said such a national database would just make its job of tracking illegal immigrants easier, that it “could only be accessed in conjunction with ongoing criminal investigations or to locate wanted individuals," and besides, the data would reside outside the government itself, safe from prying eyes.
Those justifications were met with loud guffaws, first by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), then by the ACLU, and finally by “The Judge,” Andrew Napolitano. Said EFF staff attorney Jennifer Lynch, “Ultimately, you’re creating a national database of location information. When all that data is compiled and aggregated, you can track somebody as they’re going through their life.” ACLU staff attorney Catherine Crump added: “This is yet another example of the government’s appetite for tools of mass surveillance.”
Judge Napolitano said such a move is unconstitutional:
The Constitution establishes a bar over which the government must get before it can commence any investigation about anybody.
Law enforcement is not allowed to use its powers for no reason, or on a hunch or a whim. It has to have a reason that they can articulate as to who did what wrong before they can start investigation.
One week after the solicitation for bids went out, it was withdrawn, the government exercising its usual penchant for misdirection and persiflage. In an e-mail Gilliam Christensen, a deputy press secretary at ICE, wrote:
The solicitation, which was posted without the awareness of ICE leadership, has been canceled.
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.
Uh huh: No one here is responsible for publishing the solicitation, so no one is to blame. Besides, top people weren’t kept in the loop on this, so they can’t be held responsible. Anyway, we’re going to take another look at it but, don’t worry, we’ll be back.
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