ACLU: Drug Enforcement Administration Tracking Plates Since 2008

Cameron Aubernon
by Cameron Aubernon
aclu drug enforcement administration tracking plates since 2008

It’s not just auto lenders and police who track plates: The Drug Enforcement Administration has collected 343 million records since 2008.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the DEA’s National License Plate Recognition program has at least 100 license plate readers deployed by the agency in states such as California, New Jersey and Georgia, with local, state and other federal law enforcement agencies contributing information to the DEA’s database. One collaboration with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol brought in 793.5 million license plate numbers at land border crossings between May 2009 and May 2013, the latter agency sharing its information “at regular intervals” with the former, as well as with anyone with a vested interest, such as prosecutors and local law enforcement.

The program, which currently retains “non-hit” data for six months, is meant to target roadways “commonly used for contraband transport,” a statement the ACLU finds unclear, since every roadway could be used for said transport. The group goes further, stating that the DEA may be using this belief “to target people of color,” though the heavily redacted information obtained by its FOIA request leaves such answers in doubt.

Other key findings include the program’s primary goal of asset forfeiture, and the usage of plate data to determine travel patterns. The ACLU believes more information is needed about the program regarding the civil liberties of all who travel in the United States and pass through the country’s borders, and is seeking transparency from the DEA to answer questions about where the agency receives its data, how it collects the data, whether or not it uses private databases to conduct operations, and whether or not the program has actually done its job in ensuring the safety of the American populace.

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  • Dave M. Dave M. on Jan 28, 2015

    So which ones are the best license plate covers that prevent illict photography?

    • Psarhjinian Psarhjinian on Jan 28, 2015

      Clone the plate of your local elected representative who is "tough on crime".

  • Landcrusher Landcrusher on Jan 28, 2015

    The privacy angle is interesting, but I really think it comes down to what penalties get issued for abusing the data. The whole public info thing sounds reasonable but isn't it really a ruse? The entire system was accepted because people expected it to be used to identify cars for reasons we all found acceptable. As soon as you get tracking like this, it's very reasonable to question everything about it. Let's say a company starts selling your tracking data to anyone. Allowed? Your employer goes to buy it? Your employer makes you sign it away? All employers make you sign it away? Some abusive boss/government employee uses it to stalk a victim? Do you really just want to say it's public data and fair game? It was fine to consider it public info when it was impractical to stalk people using their mandated plates, but it's time to reconsider that. My opinion for now is to let the government only collect the data. Keep tight security on the data and restrict its use and put very serious penalties in place for abusing the data. This country really needs to get back to holding people responsible for failing in their responsibilities and abusing trusts.

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