By on January 28, 2015

License Plate Reader Mounted On Police Car

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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32 Comments on “ACLU: Drug Enforcement Administration Tracking Plates Since 2008...”


  • avatar
    FractureCritical

    in first!

    before anyone gets too pissed, remember that the entire point of putting a plate on our car was to make it trackable. We’re about 80 years past that cat getting out of the bag. Just because the tools to make those trackable trackers easier to track have gotten better since then shouldn’t be too surprising.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      Also keep in mind that these plates are publicly displayed. That means you or I could choose to track them too. I suspect private industry is also tracking plates. Heck, they’re tracking faces.

      The key difference is that the govt is required to disclose what they do and why they do it.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Do you think that dismantling the drug-enforcement apparatus would cause more harm (since it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry that employs a lot of people) than good (since so many people are put through a system that costs billions of dollars for no real benefit)

    The War on Drugs is going rank up there with leaded gasoline (and the associated spike in crime) as one of the greatest social-policy failings of the last century.

    • 0 avatar
      OneAlpha

      Leaded gasoline didn’t cause widespread contempt for the law, nor did it create and encourage the view that the government was a bigger problem than the drugs themselves, nor did it turn former drug prohibitionists like myself against drug enforcement on the grounds that the drugs, and the people who did them, and whatever damage to society that happened as a result, weren’t anywhere near as bad as the attack on freedom, and the institution of a permanent Enforcement State, that the War on Drugs became.

      If you want to list Prohibition instead of leaded gas, then I’ll heartily agree with you.

    • 0 avatar
      Kendahl

      You can add the 55 mph national speed limit to the list of public policies that degraded respect for law and order. It expanded the use of CB radios beyond the world of long haul truckers and built the radar and laser electronic countermeasures industry.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        @Kendahl (and B&B), hopefully you heard the piece about Waze on the radio today. Naturally, the voices from law enforcement were divided into two camps: one that thinks the app is fine because people drive more sanely if they think a cop car is staked out up ahead, and the other that claims the app puts everyone in danger.

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      At a certain point asking whether modern prohibition is good for the economy is like asking whether the slavery was good for the economy. There are overriding moral issues.
      Regardless, it is not good for the economy:
      http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_broken_window

      • 0 avatar
        OneAlpha

        The taxation of income has the exact same problem.

        There are many good things that the government can do with other people’s money, but the moral affront of the government stealing that money outweighs all of them.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      The DEA budget is huge. The last number I heard (a few years back) was $60 billion. Add in the value of asset forfeiture and I think we come to the primary reason why drugs are illegal.

      It’s *always* about the money. Always.

      We could save huge amounts of money, treat addicts like human beings, dramatically lower our prison population, disenfranchise the Taliban and end the horrific violence in Mexico if we just admit that some percentage of the population is going to have a drug problem and deal with it as social/medical/mental health issue.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    What is the difference between a DEA officer and someone on foodstamps?

    $100K a year in taxpayer cost a year plus a huge pension for a parasite that does not contribute to society.

    At least the person on foodstamps likely has mental issues. The DEA agent is just too lazy to contribute to society in a real job.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    What’s the point of the story if no one responsible for the program is noted. I assume it’s reported because it’s shocking and we should all be bothered, but if there is nothing here to help, why? I mean, is there really any more value to this sort of story than yelling in the street that the IRS sucks?

    I don’t mean to pick on Cameron who is in good company with this report, but shouldn’t the standard be changed? Shouldn’t the heads of the programs be named? How about the name of the persons who signed off or voted approval for the programs and budgets?

    I guess I ought to name the folks responsible for the journalism standards if I’m to follow my own advice, but at least I’m not getting paid. I may go look into this though so I can start outing them.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      A great many Americans are totally unaware of their government continually spying on them and are merrily fat, dumb and happy carrying on with their lives, often acting the fool, while their government is recording their every moves, under the guise of “crime prevention.”

      Others are in denial, often saying, “I don’t believe it.”

      But this is what the majority in America have voted for, a continual degrading of our “freedoms” and privacy. Even our cars and trucks spy on us, and report to “mama” without our knowing about it at every OBDII reading or dealer service interval. Our Garmins note our every move, speeds we travel at and send the info back to Garmin whenever we connect for a map update. Our cell and smartphones record and rebroadcast our exact location. We upload our data to the Cloud where everybody has access to it, legally or illegally. Hey, the list goes on.

      This government spying has been done before, in Germany, during the 1930s, with the Nazi movement. Our government today is already much more invasive than the Nazis ever were. The Nazis didn’t have Facebook, Twitter or the Internet.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        It’s not that no one knows, believes, or cares, it’s that it’s not important enough to do anything about.

        Would I vote to end this program, or vote for a candidate against it? Yes. Am I willing to inconvenience my cushy, unremarkable, white collar lifestyle in any other way to stop the gov’t from finding I commute to work, the grocery on Sunday, and sometimes the hardware store? No, I am not. Shameful? Maybe. Reality? Yes.

      • 0 avatar
        redliner

        “Americans are totally unaware of their government continually spying on them and are merrily fat, dumb and happy carrying on with their lives, often acting the fool…”

        As it should be.

  • avatar
    cartunez

    The bootlickers will be here soon so let me beat them to the punch. “If you aren’t doing anything wrong you have nothing to fear and or hide”. The government is here to help. :)

  • avatar
    redliner

    I belive that everyone should be able to exercise free will and decide what course their life will take.

    But I am staunchly opposed to that freedom of choice when it directly and negatively impacts others.

    The use of hard drugs causes so much pain and violence around the world, that anyone who would argue otherwise is simply being willfully obtuse and blind. (It also happens to be a very expensive problem for society, but the economic repercussions are strictly secondary to the human suffering)

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      “The use of hard drugs causes so much pain and violence around the world, that anyone who would argue otherwise is simply being willfully obtuse and blind”

      No one is saying drugs aren’t a problem, they’re arguing the “solution” being used is destructive.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        “The use of hard drugs causes so much pain and violence around the world, that anyone who would argue otherwise is simply being willfully obtuse and blind”

        So, throw them in jail and really f*ck-up their life and the lives of their families

        Brilliant!

        • 0 avatar
          redliner

          “So, throw them in jail and really f*ck-up their life and the lives of their families. Brilliant!”

          Yes, because leaving kids unattended in a cold dark row house with no food so one can go get high at the local den and snort up all of the family money is totally not screwing up anyone’s life.

          I agree, warehousing people serves no purpose, and obviously, jail is not a sufficient deterrent. Any ideas?

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            It’s not as black and white as you portray. There are people who do drugs who aren’t strung out gutter trash just as there are people who drink who aren’t alcoholics. The weekend recreational user who gets caught and ends up in jail has his life ruined. For what purpose does that serve?

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Anti-drug laws funnel large amounts of money to criminals, who use that money to expand their gangs and inflict violence. Meanwhile, the users who suffer from a medical problem are being treated as criminals, which makes no sense at all.

      I’m not a fan of big pharma, but I would prefer that the heroin money go to Bayer and Astra Zeneca than to the Zetas. People who support drug laws need to wake up and realize what harm they’re doing — supporting drug criminalization is not benign.

    • 0 avatar
      an innocent man

      >The use of hard drugs causes so much pain and violence around the world<

      It's the prohibition aspect that leads to the violence. You'll notice that the guy that delivers Coors Light to your favorite bar isn't doing drive-by shootings on the guy that delivers Sam Adams to that same bar, right?

      • 0 avatar
        redliner

        You make a good point on the distribution side, but what about the end consumers. The people who are committing robberies, burglarizing homes, and generally doing anything possible just to score. Legalization doesn’t address the “user” side of the equation, and may even make it worse.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          No legalizing it will lower the real crime caused by black market drugs. You can’t go to the corner store, or at least most of them, and trade that DVD player, computer or what ever you stole for a 6 pack. You can however take those stolen items to your local drug dealer and get your fix.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

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

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    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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