DEA license plate scanners track millions

English: The seal of the United States Drug En...
English: The seal of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

* * *

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.

Saudi Arabia quote of the day

The Western response to the death of Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, king of Saudi Arabia and custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, followed two paths. Along one, various officials and luminaries offered the gestures —half-mast flags, public obsequies — expected when a great statesman enters the hereafter. John Kerry described the late monarch as “a man of wisdom and vision” and a “revered leader.” Tony Blair called him a “modernizer of his country” and a “staunch advocate of interfaith relations,” who was “loved by his people and will be deeply missed.”

Along the other path, anyone outside Western officialdom was free to tell the fuller truth: that Abdullah presided over one of the world’s most wicked nonpariah states, whose domestic policies are almost cartoonishly repressive and whose international influence has been strikingly malign. His dynasty is founded on gangsterish control over a precious natural resource, sustained by an unholy alliance with a most cruel interpretation of Islam and protected by the United States and its allies out of fear of worse alternatives if it fell.

Ross Douthat

Sarah Palin planning to run for president?

When Sarah Palin took the stage yesterday at the Iowa Freedom Summit, organized by Representative Steve King of Iowa,  she sure looked like she was ready to throw her hat in the ring. At a minimum, she is “seriously interested” in running. And, of course, her speech was full of the bizarre malapropisms we all know.

If you can take the time, check you this video. It is both hilarious and unintelligible.

Anti-vaccine proponents hurt us all

The Onion has a great take on the anti-vaccine movement’s risk to us all, especially children.

Excerpt:

As a mother, I put my parenting decisions above all else. Nobody knows my son better than me, and the choices I make about how to care for him are no one’s business but my own. So, when other people tell me how they think I should be raising my child, I simply can’t tolerate it. Regardless of what anyone else thinks, I fully stand behind my choices as a mom, including my choice not to vaccinate my son, because it is my fundamental right as a parent to decide which eradicated diseases come roaring back.

The decision to cause a full-blown, multi-state pandemic of a virus that was effectively eliminated from the national population generations ago is my choice alone, and regardless of your personal convictions, that right should never be taken away from a child’s parent. Never.

* * *

Look, I’ve done the research on these issues, I’ve read the statistics, and I’ve carefully considered the costs and benefits, and there’s simply no question in my mind that inciting a nationwide health emergency by unleashing a disease that can kill 20 percent or more of its victims is the right one for my child.

People need to respect that and move on.

Police use radar systems to “see” inside buildings

Via USA Today:

At least 50 U.S. law enforcement agencies have secretly equipped their officers with radar devices that allow them to effectively peer through the walls of houses to see whether anyone is inside, a practice raising new concerns about the extent of government surveillance.

Those agencies, including the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, began deploying the radar systems more than two years ago with little notice to the courts and no public disclosure of when or how they would be used. The technology raises legal and privacy issues because the U.S. Supreme Court has said officers generally cannot use high-tech sensors to tell them about the inside of a person’s house without first obtaining a search warrant.

This activity should be obviously unconstitutional, at least when deployed without a warrant. The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that citizens are free from law enforcement scrutiny of their houses absent a valid search warrant. For example, in the 2001 case of Kyllo v. United States, Justice Scalia wrote the Court’s opinion in a 5–4 decision that cut across ideological lines. That decision found thermal imaging of a home to be an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. The Court struck down a conviction for marijuana manufacture based on a search warrant issued after such scans were conducted, which showed that the garage was considerably hotter than the rest of the house because of indoor growing lights.

healthcare.gov is sharing private information

Via the EFF:

The Associated Press reports that healthcare.gov–the flagship site of the Affordable Care Act, where millions of Americans have signed up to receive health care–is quietly sending personal health information to a number of third party websites. The information being sent includes one’s zip code, income level, smoking status, pregnancy status and more.

* * *

EFF researchers have independently confirmed that healthcare.gov is sending personal health information to at least 14 third party domains, even if the user has enabled Do Not Track. The information is sent via the referrer header, which contains the URL of the page requesting a third party resource. The referrer header is an essential part of the HTTP protocol, and is sent for every request that is made on the web. The referrer header lets the requested resource know what URL the request came from. This would for example let a website know who else was linking to their pages. In this case however the referrer URL contains personal health information.

It is outrageous that private information is sent to outsiders by the government, especially in connection with health insurance which is supposed to be private and it is some of the most personal information everyone has.

2009 internal CIA report says torture effectiveness low

The New York Times is reporting that a classified 2009 report, generated at the order of Leon Panetta, then CIA Director, questioned the effectiveness of the torture regime operated by the United States.

Years before the release in December of a Senate Intelligence Committee report detailing the C.I.A.’s use of torture and deceit in its detention program, an internal review by the agency found that the C.I.A. had repeatedly overstated the value of intelligence gained during the brutal interrogations of some of its detainees.

The internal report, more than 1,000 pages in length, came to be known as the Panetta Review after Leon E. Panetta, who, as the C.I.A.’s director, ordered that it be done in 2009. At least one of its authors won an agency award for her work, according to a recent briefing that the agency’s inspector general gave to staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The contents of the Panetta Review, which remain classified, are now central to simmering battles over the Intelligence Committee’s conclusions about the efficacy of torture and the C.I.A.’s allegations that committee staffers improperly took the review from an agency facility. The C.I.A. has publicly distanced itself from the report’s findings, saying that it was an incomplete and cursory review of documents, and has blocked its release under the Freedom of Information Act.

* * *

One of the report’s findings, according to people who have seen the document, was that the C.I.A. repeatedly claimed that important intelligence to thwart terror plots and track down Qaeda operatives had come from the interrogation sessions of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed when, in fact, the intelligence had other origins.

The Times further states that Republican Senator Richard Burr, now the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has requested that the classified versions of the Intelligence Committee torture report be returned to the committee. Apparently full copies of that report were distributed throughout several government departments, although only the summary was released publicly.

So the argument about the effectiveness of torture remains ongoing. However, what is not in doubt is that torture is illegal under US law. Until those who committee the torture are punished, and the US repudiates the use of torture going forward, there is a stain on America.

Elon Musk quote of the day

Asked by a reporter whether Tesla would consider building an assembly plant in Michigan, where Tesla is barred from selling cars or operating showrooms under recently enacted legislation, Musk said: “It’s not out of the question.”

“Maybe Michigan shouldn’t stop us from selling cars here,” he quipped. “That would be a nice gesture.”

– via Automotive News.