The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is tracking millions of Americans using automatic license plate readers, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) revealed this week. While the DEA states its intention is to seize cars and assets of those involved in drug trafficking, the program has also swept up hundreds of millions of records of motorists around the U.S.
The ACLU discovered the existence of the DEA program on Monday through a Freedom of Information Act request. According to the heavily redacted and incomplete set of DEA documents, the program was implemented in 2008.
“The broad thrust of the DEA is to spread its program broadly and catch data and travel patterns on a massive scale,” ACLU analyst Jay Stanley told The Guardian.
“This could be a really amazing level of surveillance that we’ve not seen before in this country.”
The Wall Street Journal cited anonymous officials and official documents confirming that the DEA program stored hundreds of millions of US motorist records in a database designed to track vehicles in real time. A Justice Department spokesman said the DEA has reduced the time records are stored from two years to three months.
Documents released on Wednesday showed that the DEA planned to work with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in Phoenix to monitor public gun shows using automatic license plate recording technology back in 2009.
A few other major findings on DEA surveillance made by the ACLU include:
- The DEA has deployed at least 100 license plate readers across the United States.
- By 2010 the DEA had established 41 plate-reader monitoring stations throughout California, New Mexico, and Texas.
- The DEA invited local, state, and federal agencies to contribute information to the database.
- DEA received records from Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) between May 2009 and May 2013 consisting of over 793.5 million license plates.
- DEA says that the National License Plate Recognition Initiative targets roadways it believes are commonly used for drug trafficking.
- The DEA mines license plate data to identify travel patterns.
Though law enforcement agencies have used automatic license plate readers for years to catch known criminals, the ACLU claims that “the DEA has provided limited information to the public on the program’s goals, capabilities and policies.”
The DEA isn’t the only organization using technology to track the movement of Americans. The Inquisitr reported in 2013 that the ACLU published a study outlining the broad implementation of automatic cameras by police to capture the photos of millions of license plates across the U.S. in order to help solve crimes. But the ACLU concluded that millions of innocent Americans were also being caught up in the dragnet in violation of their Fourth Amendment rights against illegal searches without probable cause or a warrant.
Is the DEA going too far? Tell us in comments.