Big brother is watching your license plate

The so-called war on drugs has been characterized as a failure. The U.S. illegal drug market is as lucrative and well-supplied as it was 40 years ago when the "war" began. From increasing incarceration to the militarization of the police to the weakening of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, there have been few positive side effects.

Enhanced law enforcement is always premised on the idea that we give up some freedom in return for some improvement in security. But in fact, often we are not even presented with the deal. Instead, law enforcement often commences some program, and it is only months or years later that the public is informed of what they are doing.

A recent example is the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) creation of database using license plate data from around the country to track vehicles real-time. The program was ostensibly based along the Mexican border to track drug dealers. But like all such programs, it has grown, with license plate readers as far away as along I-95 in New Jersey.

But it gets worse. Many state law enforcement vehicles now are equipped with license plate readers and these vehicles are always collecting data of vehicles. In some states, this information is apparently also fed into the DEA’s database. The Wall Street Journal reported that Florida and Georgia data is part of the DEA’s records.

While supposedly done to combat drugs and facilitate the federal drug charges, the real purpose is primarily to help with asset forfeiture. The DEA identifies vehicles that are moving drug money with the surveillance program and can seize cash in vehicles to help fund their activities.

This type of national surveillance of anyone driving a public road creates privacy concerns and it is troubling that it was done with no publicity, no discussion and no oversight from lawmakers.

The Atlantic, "The DEA Is Spying on Millions of Cars All Over the U.S.," Conor Friedersdorf, January 27, 2015


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