DEA Program Tracks Millions of Vehicles in Real Time

By Victoria Kim 02/09/15

The ACLU has raised the alarm on a tracking program affecting millions of drivers.

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The Drug Enforcement Administration has been tracking the real time movement of vehicles across the United States, under a national license plate reader program that the American Civil Liberties Union said raises “serious civil liberties concerns.”

The program’s primary goal was to seize cars, cash, and other assets to combat drug trafficking, especially near the Mexican border, according to the Wall Street Journal. But it expanded to monitor vehicles associated with other potential crimes.

The DEA has the potential to “soon possess a detailed and invasive depiction of people’s lives” if license plate readers “continue to proliferate without restriction,” the ACLU said. Especially if combined with other surveillance data such as bulk phone records and cell phone information, which include users’ location data and identifying information.

The problem with data-mining information on the movements of millions of people accused of no crime is that the DEA is “potentially tagging people as criminals without due process,” the ACLU said.

Last week, the ACLU reported some major findings on the massive intelligence-gathering license plate monitoring program in DEA documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, which they noted were “heavily redacted and incomplete.”

However, the ACLU said the records “offer documentation that this program is a major DEA initiative that has the potential to track our movements around the country.”

“With its jurisdiction and its finances, the federal government is uniquely positioned to create a centralized repository of all drivers’ movements across the country—and the DEA seems to be moving toward doing just that,” the ACLU said in the report.

The DEA invited federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies around the country to contribute location information to the database, the ACLU found. "Other agencies are surely partnering with the DEA to share information, but these agreements are still secret, leaving the public unable to know who has their location information and how it is being used."

According to a Justice Department spokesman, “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.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr