Millions of cars tracked across US in 'massive' real-time DEA spy program

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The United States government is tracking the movement of vehicles around the country in a clandestine intelligence-gathering programme that has been condemned as a further official exercise to build a database on people’s lives.

The Drug Enforcement Administration was monitoring license plates on a “massive” scale, giving rise to “major civil liberties concerns”, the American Civil Liberties Union said on Monday night, citing DEA documents obtained under freedom of information.

“This story highlights yet another way government security agencies are seeking to quietly amplify their powers using new technologies,” Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with ACLU, told the Guardian.

“On this as on so many surveillance issues, we can take action, put in place some common sense limits or sit back and let our society be transformed into a place we won’t recognize – or probably much like.”

The advocacy group said the DEA records it obtained from the justice department were heavily redacted and incomplete.

“These records do, however, 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.”

If license plate readers continued to proliferate without restriction and the DEA held license plate reader data for extended periods the agency would soon possess a detailed and invasive depiction of people’s lives, the ACLU said, especially if combined with other surveillance data such as bulk phone records or information gleaned by the US Marshals Service using aircraft that mimic cellphone towers.

“Data-mining the information, an unproven law enforcement technique that the DEA has begun to use here, only exacerbates these concerns, potentially tagging people as criminals without due process,” the ACLU warned.

The Wall Street Journal, citing official documents and anonymous officials, reported that the programme built a national database to track vehicles in real time and stored hundreds of millions of records about motorists.

The primary goal was to seize cars, cash and other assets to combat drug trafficking but the database expanded to monitor vehicles associated with other potential crimes, it said.

Officials have publicly acknowledged they track vehicles near the Mexican border to combat drug trafficking.

But the database’s expansion “thoughout the United States”, as one DEA email put it, worried Senator Patrick Leahy, who sits on the Senate judiciary committee.

“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,’’ he told the Wall Street Journal.

Leahy called for additional accountability and said Americans should not have to fear that “their locations and movements are constantly being tracked and stored in a massive government database”.

A spokesman for the justice department, which includes the DEA, said the program complied 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,’’ the spokesman said.

According to the ACLU, the government-run national license plate tracking program dates from 2008. Information had trickled out over the years but far too little was known about the program, the ACLU said.
source: Millions of cars tracked across US in 'massive' real-time DEA spy program | World news | The Guardian

Some may call this invasion of privacy? But here is the thing. If you are on a public road with your car you are out in public. You have no Expectation of Privacy according to the law. There is no problem legally with them tracking your cars via traffic cameras or other surveillance equipment. Its only if they put a tracking device on your car that you have had your privacy invaded.
 
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It may not technically be invasion of privacy, but it is certainly intrusive! I feel like we are their guinea pigs, their test subjects, and there's nothing we can do to stop it.
 
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It's almost equivalent to tracking your vehicle though, your license plate information acts as a unique identifier and they would be able to track your whereabouts through the monitoring system. Mass surveillance isn't nearly as frightening to the average person as it should be, the more totalitarian powers that are granted to the government, the harder it will be for those powers to be willingly relinquished.

At the moment, most of this data is being stored in the massive government databases the senator refers to. However, with advances in technology, it may become feasible to individually analyze the data and create activity profiles for everyone.

Imagine taking a detour while on your usual commute to work, and having to worry about how it would look like to some government agency. There's a fair chance that's going to be the future for most people.
 
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It might not be officially classed as an invasion of privacy but I'd certainly feel like my rights had been violated.
There seems to be more and more data than ever before being compiled by governments all over the world on people. While this might not necessarily be a bad thing, I'm not exactly sure that its making much of a difference in preventing criminal activities.
I'd also be a little concerned on where this data is stored and who would have access to it.
 
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What is sad is I read somewhere online, cannot remember where. That if you go into the city, you will be on camera at least 50 times a day. That is kind of scary and sad at the same exact time. I mean, I could expect to have some at the stores and such, but with the roads and other cameras it is going to be intrusive at some point.
 
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People might think that there's nothing to worry about as they haven't done anything wrong butstunts like this make me think that they are just waiting for us to make one wrong move.

Organizations really are spying on our every move. George Orwell wasn't far off the mark when he wrote "1984".
 
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If they put nearly as much time and effort into spying on actual threats to this country as they do spying on the people of this country we might be okay.
 

sillylucy

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I totally feel like this is an invasion of privacy. It wasn't even made public that they were doing this type of study and tracking people. It still amazes me how much they are tracking us and we don't know anything about it.