by Edmond Geary
The U.S. Department of Justice has been assembling a nation-wide database of vehicles for tracking their owners and movements. They scan and store license tags in the hundreds of millions, and also record faces. The Drug Enforcement Administration began the tracking of citizens’ license plates so they could seize property gained from drug trafficking. They seize vehicles, cash and any other apparently ill-gotten goods. But, as usual, any idea a government agency gets old, financed by ample tax dollars to ambitious bureaucrats, is inevitably expanded. Now it includes vehicles suspected of any crime or potential crimes.
Government agents publicly disclosed their initial tracking of vehicles at the Mexican border. It began in Arizona, California, Texas, New Mexico, and Nevada. That was to help the D.E.A. fight the drug cartels. But only recently has it been revealed that the D.E.A. has expanded their data base throughout the entire country. And now state and local law enforcement agencies use and contribute to the database.
Talk about Big Brother. Who needs search warrants when the police can use an all-seeing eye? Just like Big Brother in “1984″, they watch all, see all, report on all citizens. U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy says this raises “significant privacy concerns.” He calls this “intrusive technology.” He has asked for additional accountability, but don’t bet on that happening. This is law enforcement, these are tax-supported bureaucrats who always claim they have good reasons for more intrusions into the lives of citizens. The privacy of citizens’ lives and Constitutional rights are impediments to their efficiency. They thrive on eliminating such obstacles to their crime busting. Citizen concerns are just hand-wringing. Our founding fathers recognized this tropy of government, but law enforcement never ceases to push for more intrusion.
Among the objections to this spy program is that such surveillance is performed on Americans who are not suspected of any crimes. And it is operated in secret, without any public input and without any public accountability.
The D.E.A. program records vehicles with high-tech cameras on major highways. It tracks the movements of cars, including location, time, and direction. Some of them record faces of drivers and passengers. License-plate readers from local authorities help constant updating of the databases. The D.E.A. had one hundred cameras in operation in 2011, working interstate highways from New Jersey to Florida. The DEA claimed for that year its program helped in the seizure of 98 kg of cocaine, 8.3 kg MJ and the collection of $866,000. Originally, it held the data for two years, but claims it now holds it for three months.
This is even more of concern after recent revelations that the U.S. Marshals Service is flying planes around the country that carry devices that mimic cellphone towers so they can scan the identifying information of citizens’ phones. Canceled last year was a D.E.A. program, run for over a decade, that gathered the phone records of Americans who called foreign countries. The program had no judicial oversight.