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Nationwide License Plate Tracking Database Sparks Controversy

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McCorkel Meghan 370x278 (2) Meghan McCorkell
Meghan McCorkell joined the Eyewitness News team in July 2011 as a...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A sweeping proposal by the federal government would give Homeland Security officials access to a nationwide license plate tracking database to catch criminals. The proposal is facing scrutiny from those who say it violates privacy and now the government is backtracking.

Meghan McCorkell has the latest developments.

Homeland Security officials are pulling back on that proposal, saying it was posted without the awareness of leadership.

It’s technology used by police departments across Maryland. Now there’s word that Homeland Security was considering using data captured by license plate readers to form a national database to help catch criminals.

“After the attacks of September the 11th, we have to be more vigilant. We have to use all the technology we have at our disposal,” said Vernon Herron with the University of Maryland’s Center for Health and Homeland Security.

But the senior policy analyst says this may be a hard sell.

“This new initiative has to be transparent. There has to be oversight,” he said.

In a statement, Homeland Security individuals say, “The database could only be accessed in conjunction with ongoing criminal investigations or to locate wanted individuals.”

But civil liberties groups say the license plate database is just as invasive as the recently uncovered NSA cell phone tracking program.

“I think that is really a nightmare proposal. It’s our worst dream come true,” said ACLU lawyer David Rocah.

He says the readers have a legitimate use when police scan them live to track down people with open warrants. It’s the storage of the data he says creates a “surveillance state.”

“If the government said that each of us had to carry a tracking device so that the government can know where we are at any moment in time when we’re traveling outside our house, we would all understand that that’s an appalling idea,” Rocah said.

Now Homeland Security officials are hitting the brakes.

Again, officials say they are no longer seeking bids for a company to put together that database. It is now under review.

Several Maryland legislators are proposing a bill that would limit state law enforcement’s ability to store license plate data.

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