By TLB Contributor: Susanne Posel
The Department of Justice (DoJ) has colluded with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to track drivers in real-time as they move about in their cars and trucks as part of a “secret domestic intelligence-gathering program that scans and stores hundreds of millions of records about motorists.”
Documents show this surveillance operation “collects data about vehicle movements, including time, direction and location, from high-tech cameras placed strategically on major highways. Many devices also record visual images of drivers and passengers, which are sometimes clear enough for investigators to confirm identities.”
Local and state police are collecting the real-time license plate data, feeding that information into a database that can be accessed by many federal law enforcement agencies.
The DEA asserts that this program is aimed at confiscating “cars, cash and other assets to combat drug trafficking.”
Beyond that purpose, the profiling surveillance program broadened its reach to include “kidnappings to killings to rape suspects.”
Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) commented: “Any database that collects detailed location information about Americans not suspected of crimes raises very serious privacy questions. It’s unconscionable that technology with such far-reaching potential would be deployed in such secrecy. People might disagree about exactly how we should use such powerful surveillance technologies, but it should be democratically decided, it shouldn’t be done in secret.’’
With what started as a spying initiative at the Mexican border, extended over the years to encompass the entirety of the US.
The DoJ and the DEA have cooperated with various “state and local law-enforcement [who] are accessing the database for a variety of investigations.”
Shockingly, it appears that this operation has no oversight nor any approval from a higher authority within the US government to justify its existence.
The DoJ maintains that “the program complies with federal law. 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.”
Two years ago the ACLU released documents showing how police departments use surveillance endeavors on Americans by recording license plate numbers as drivers pass by to strengthen their information databases without foreknowledge by the public.
Over 26,000 pages were gathered through researching public records and the Freedom of Information Act (FIOA) to conclude that nearly 600 local and state police departments in 38 states across America, including the District of Columbia, are participating in this scheme.
Millions of digital records have been amassed using this system that gives enforcement agencies the ability to locate any car at any time. The scanners are able to “capture images of passing or parked vehicles and note their location, uploading that information into police databases. Departments keep the records for weeks or years, sometimes indefinitely.”
Using automatic license plate readers (ALPR) surveillance technology, there is a clear and “startling picture of a technology deployed with too few rules that is becoming a tool for mass routine location tracking and surveillance.”
The ACLU relayed in a statement that “the documents paint a startling picture of a technology deployed with too few rules that is becoming a tool for mass routine location tracking and surveillance.”
More disturbing is that “private companies are also using license plate readers and sharing the information they collect with police with little or no oversight or privacy protections. A lack of regulation means that policies governing how long our location data is kept vary widely.”
High-speed cameras are used in conjunction with software to analyze photographs wherein license plate numbers are retrieved. The data is compared to “hot lists” of plate numbers and produces an instant alert when a match, or “hit,” registers.
The ACLU explains: “License plate readers would pose few civil liberties risks if they only checked plates against hot lists and these hot lists were implemented soundly. But these systems are conﬁgured to store the photograph, the license plate number, and the date, time, and location where all vehicles are seen — not just the data of vehicles that generate hits.”
Effectively, hot list information is gathered from the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).
The ACLU admonished that this practice violates our 4th Amendment rights because “systems are conﬁgured to store the photograph, the license plate number, and the date, time, and location where all vehicles are seen — not just the data of vehicles that generate hits.”
This enables the enforcement industry to create “s police to create “a single, high-resolution image of our lives.”
Upon examination of the documents, the ACLU was able to reveal “a system that triggered a real-time alert to the presence of a stolen vehicle, or a car linked to a fugitive, and that seemed acceptable. But then the group realized police were storing the license plate scans — whether or not there had been a ‘hit’.”
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