DEA tracks movements of millions of Americans using license plate readers
Thu, Feb 19 2015 09:51
American citizens are being monitored more closely than ever, according to a recent report by The Wall Street Journal. In the latest chapter regarding the government's systematic assault on our right to privacy, it has been revealed that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been secretly tracking vehicles using cameras that record license plate numbers and information about the movement of vehicles on U.S. highways.
Under authority granted by the Justice Department, the DEA began the secret program in 2008 as part of the questionable and largely ineffective War on Drugs that it has been waging for decades.
Initially, the program was designed to track the movements of vehicles on or near the Mexican border, in an effort to combat drug trafficking. Since then, however, the program has been expanded to include a number of states that are not on the border -- just how many and which states are involved is still a well-guarded secret, the excuse being that revealing this information would help criminals escape justice.
At this point, the program is no longer limited to using the information for capturing drug traffickers -- the data gathered by the DEA has also been used to catch other types of criminals, according to the report.
The cameras, which have been installed along major highways throughout the country, are capable of reading license plates and storing information regarding the time a vehicle passed through a certain location, as well as the direction it was headed. Some of the cameras are even capable of identifying drivers and passengers.
The DEA has also gained access to federal, state and local license plate readers to expand its database. For example, Customs and Border Patrol has shared its own data with the DEA -- the agency has collected info on land border traffic amounting to nearly 800 million license plates between May 2009 and May 2013.
It is unclear at this point whether any court has approved or oversees the DEA program, and civil liberty advocates are greatly concerned.
Jay Stanley, a policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said: "Any database that collects detailed location information about Americans not suspected of crimes raises very serious privacy questions."
A Justice Department spokesman defended the program, saying, "It is not new that the DEA uses the license-plate reader program to arrest criminals and stop the flow of drugs in areas of high trafficking intensity."
The ACLU and others, however, have expressed concerns over the secrecy of the program, pointing out that when such activities are kept secret from the public, there is no opportunity to challenge their validity or make sure that there are no abuses of citizens' rights.
As Stanley notes, the information gathered in this manner "can reveal political and sexual associations, what doctors you visited, their specialities, whether you are good partner or spouse, the state of your health, your interests and associations."
He and others believe that the government has no business compiling this type of detailed information on its citizens -- especially when no crime has been committed. "It's not the kind of information government should be compiling," said Stanley.
The Senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy, has also voiced concerns over the program, saying that Americans should not have to worry that "their locations and movements are constantly being tracked and stored in a massive government database."
The failed War on Drugs is a flimsy excuse for the government to continue inventing new ways of tracking the movements of its citizens. Our nation was founded on principles designed to prevent the rise of a tyrannical government, but little by little we have allowed our freedoms to become eroded in the name of "security."