- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Less than two weeks after reports revealed that the Justice Department’s Drug Enforcement Administration tracked Americans calls for over a decade, new documents show that the same agency has been building a national database to track vehicles in real time around the country.

The license-plate tracking program was set up by the DEA assist in the seizure of cars, cash and other assets to combat drug trafficking, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

But the database is also used to search for vehicles associated with other crimes, including kidnappings and killings to rape suspect, sources told The Journal.

The DEA publicly acknowledged that it tracks vehicles near the Mexican border to fight drug cartels, but did not reveal that it intended to expand the database “throughout the United States,” one email reviewed by The Journal reads.

The license-plate tracking program collects data about vehicle movements, including time, direction and location, using cameras placed on major roadways. Many of the devices capture images of the driver, which can be used to identify people, according to the documents and sources familiar with the program.

State and local law enforcement are also able to access the database, sources familiar with the program said.

A spokesman for the Justice Department said the program complies 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 told The Journal.

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the DEA’s use of license-plate readers “raises significant privacy concerns.”

“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 said, The Journal reported.

Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU, agreed, calling the clandestine nature of a database that collects such detailed information about citizens not suspected of crimes “unconscionable.”

“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,” Mr. Stanley told The Journal.

In 2010 the database aided in the seizure of 98 kilograms of cocaine, 8,336 kilograms of marijuana and $866,380 in cash. It also has been connected to the Amber Alert system to aid police searching for abducted children, The Wall Street Journal reported.

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