The national license-plate recognition database, which would take vehicle-registration plate information from readers that scan the tags of every vehicle crossing their paths, would help catch fugitive immigrants living in the United States without legal permission, says a request for quotations from the DHS's Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
But the billion or more records could easily be shared with other law enforcement agencies, the Washington Post says, and the ICE solicitation makes no mention of privacy safeguards, raising concerns among civil liberties groups that ordinary citizens would also be scrutinized.
"This is yet another example of the government's appetite for tools of mass surveillance," American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Catherine Crump told the Post.
In Britain, political activists have had their vehicles added to a "hot list" after attending protests, the BBC reported. One man was questioned under anti-terror laws after he drove in his car to take part in an anti-war demonstration.
An ICE spokeswoman told the Post the database "could only be accessed in conjunction with ongoing criminal investigations or to locate wanted individuals."
It would help ICE agents find suspects who might pose a public-safety threat, said Gillian Christensen, whose agency does DHS "homeland security investigations" and "enforcement and removal operations."
"It is important to note that this database would be run by a commercial enterprise, and the data would be collected and stored by the commercial enterprise, not the government," she said.
ICE agents would take photos of license plates using smartphones, the solicitation says. The photos could then be compared against a "hot list" of plates in the database.
"The government would prefer a close-up of the plate and a zoomed-out image of the vehicle," the request for quotations says.
The images would go in a case file report that would include the car's make and model, maps and registration information.
The agents would have 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week access.
The solicitation -- first reported by the Prepper Podcast Radio Network and Infowars.com -- can be found in a PDF file at tinyurl.com/UPI-ICE-License-Plates.