Tags: NSA/Surveillance | cars | database | Drug Enforcement Administration | license plates | surveillance

WSJ: US Spies on Millions of Cars Traveling Highways

WSJ: US Spies on Millions of Cars Traveling Highways
(Ed Schultz/al.com/Landov)

By    |   Tuesday, 27 January 2015 08:35 AM

The U.S. government is stockpiling a vast national database of license plates using video cameras on major highways for secret surveillance of motorists.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the goal of the license-plate tracking system, which is run by the Drug Enforcement Administration, is to combat drug trafficking by nabbing cars that might be transporting illegal substances.

But the database has vastly expanded to monitor vehicles for other possible crimes, from kidnappings to killings and rape. And many state and local law enforcement agencies have the ability to track vehicles in real time for a variety of investigations, and they use the information gathered to feed the federal database.

Among the data collected are time, direction and location of vehicles, and visual images of drivers and passengers, which are sometimes clear enough for authorities to identify people, according to the Journal.

It has been previously reported that the program was used to track vehicles near the Mexican border to crack down on drug cartels.

But the new information indicates that the DEA has expanded the database throughout the U.S., the Journal said.

It is not clear whether any court overseas or has approved the intelligence-gathering program, the Journal said, and lawmakers and privacy activists are raising the alarm.

Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said the practice "raises significant privacy concerns. The fact that this intrusive technology is potentially being used to expand the reach of the government's asset-forfeiture efforts is of even greater concern."

Leahy added that Americans should not have to worry that "their locations and movements are constantly being tracked and stored in a massive government database."

Jay Stanley, an ACLU senior policy analyst, echoed Leahy's feelings.

"Any database that collects detailed location information about Americans not suspected of crimes raises very serious privacy questions," Stanley told the Journal.

"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."

The DEA insists its surveillance program is legal.

"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," a Justice Department spokesman told the Journal.

The agency went further and defended the program's effectiveness. It said in internal documents that it seized nearly 100 kilograms of cocaine, more than 8,000 kilograms of marijuana, and $866,380 in cash.

"The DEA has designed this program to assist with locating, identifying, and seizing bulk currency, guns, and other illicit contraband moving along the southwest border and throughout the United States.

"With that said, we want to ensure we can collect and manage all the data and IT responsibilities that will come with the work to insure the program meets its goals, of which asset forfeiture is primary," said one email from 2010, according to the Journal.

The program is just one of many domestic spying programs that are currently being employed. In November, a report claimed the U.S. Marshals Service is gathering cellphone data though devices on airplanes that mimic cellphone towers. 

Early last year, another report outlined how police agencies are using stingray devices to capture cellphone data.

And in the fall, another report claimed there are fake cellphone towers sprinkled across the nation that steal cellphone data.

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The U.S. government is stockpiling a vast national database of license plates using video cameras on major highways for secret surveillance of motorists, The Wall Street Journal reports.
cars, database, Drug Enforcement Administration, license plates, surveillance
Tuesday, 27 January 2015 08:35 AM
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