We’ve known for a long time that US authorities have a lot of licence plate readers at their disposal, some of which they surely use for nefarious purposes. However, new details have emerged that show exactly how nefarious those purposes are. Does secretly spying on millions of Americans and seizing property sound nefarious enough to care?
The Wall Street Journal just reported on the details of a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) program that started out by targeting traffickers along the border but has grown significantly in recent years. Now, the DEA is spying on Americans with dozens of of its own high-tech licence plate readers on major highways across the country. The agency also taps into vast networks of licence plate readers owned by state and local authorities to feed additional footage into its database. If you’ve driven on an Interstate in the past five years, there’s a chance you’re in this database.
“Any database that collects detailed location information about Americans not suspected of crimes raises very serious privacy questions,” the ACLU’s Jay Stanley told the paper. “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 especially unsettling secret about the DEA’s licence plate reader program is that it’s apparently designed to help federal authorities seize cars and assets, sometimes when a crime hasn’t been committed. This is bad. Again, it’s not news that licence plate readers are out there in the wild, threatening to demolish Americans’ privacy. But the details of exactly how the Feds are using the technology to gain an upper hand on criminals, regardless of civil liberties — well — the details are unsettling. [WSJ via Jalopnik]