At this point in America’s ongoing loss of privacy, it’s becoming clear that if one can imagine a way for an agency to spy, it’s probably happening. Hot on the heels of the recent announcement that the DEA collects call data on citizens, the ACLU has discovered that the drug agency is tracking millions of peoples’ movements through license plate scanners.
After filing numerous freedom of information requests, the civil liberties watchdog has discovered that the DEA tracks suspects and potential suspects through a network of its own scanners as well as through local law enforcement’s devices fed directly into the agency’s database. While the program’s stated intention is to obtain information on figures in the drug trade, according to the Wall Street Journal, “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.”
Much like the many revelations related to NSA spying, critics worry about the potential abuses that could occur. Local law enforcement has been using the enormous tracking database as well, considerably increasing the number of people with access to private information. In the case of the NSA, an estimated 500,000 contractors can see the information and as Edward Snowden demonstrated, take it to use for their own purposes.
Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU tells the Journal:
“Any database that collects detailed location information about Americans not suspected of crimes raises very serious privacy questions. It’s unconscionable that technology with such far-reaching potential would be deployed in such secrecy. 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.’’