Customs and Border Protection said Monday that photos of travelers and license plates collected at a single U.S. border point have been exposed in a malicious cyberattack in what a leading congressman called a “major privacy breach.”
The federal agency did not name the subcontractor whose computer network was hacked, but the announcement followed news that a Tennessee-based company that bills itself as the sole provider of stationary license plate readers at U.S. borders had been compromised.
A Customs spokesman said initial reports indicated that the images involved fewer than 100,000 people; photographs were taken of travelers in vehicles entering and exiting the United States at a single land-border port of entry over one and a half months.
Automated license-plate readers are used for “detecting, identifying, apprehending, and removing individuals illegally entering the United States at and between ports of entry or otherwise violating U.S. law,” the Department of Homeland Security says in a December 2017 privacy document . Recorded license plates are checked in real time against DHS databases to which 13 federal agencies have access.