The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Drug Enforcement Administration has deployed license plate scanners across the country to track the travels of American citizens in real-time. The DEA also collects license plate scanner data from local police departments. Even worse, the database is used for civil forfeiture seizures of cars and cash.
The Justice Department has been building a national database to track in real time the movement of vehicles around the U.S., a secret domestic intelligence-gathering program that scans and stores hundreds of millions of records about motorists, according to current and former officials and government documents.
The primary goal of the license-plate tracking program, run by the Drug Enforcement Administration, is to seize cars, cash and other assets to combat drug trafficking, according to one government document. But the database’s use has expanded to hunt for vehicles associated with numerous other potential crimes, from kidnappings to killings to rape suspects, say people familiar with the matter.
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One email written in 2010 said the primary purpose of the program was asset forfeiture—a controversial practice in which law-enforcement agencies seize cars, cash and other valuables from suspected criminals. The practice is increasingly coming under attack because of instances when law-enforcement officers take such assets without evidence of a crime.
The document said, “…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 insure 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.”
A number of lawmakers have been planning to offer legislation to rein in what they call abuses of asset-forfeiture laws. The Justice Department recently announced it was ending its role in one type of asset seizure, known as “adoptions,’’ a process by which local officials take property, then have the assets adopted and sold by the federal government. Often, that allows the local agency to keep a higher percentage of the money from the seizure. The policy change doesn’t affect the bulk of asset seizures in the U.S.
It was just a few days ago that it was disclosed that the DEA had collected, for years, millions phone calls of Americans to overseas locations. Clearly, this agency is out of control in its efforts to surveil Americans. It is time for serious investigations of the DEA with an eye toward shutting it down for rampant and illegal surveillance. Drug laws should be reviewed and generally repealed, ending the so-called “war on drugs.” The DEA has corrupted the rights of Americans and has lost its legitimacy.