WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- The Drug Enforcement Administration uses roadside cameras and license plate readers to track millions of vehicles in the United States, documents show.
The American Civil Liberties Union obtained documents the group describes as "heavily redacted and incomplete" through a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents, "undated" and "years old," show information sharing with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies that use license plate readers to track vehicles.
"This story highlights yet another way government security agencies are seeking to quietly amplify their powers using new technologies," Jay Stanley, an ACLU senior policy analyst, told the British Guardian newspaper. "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."
Misleading reports last year suggested the federal government had abandoned license plate tracking, the ACLU said.
"In fact, a government-run national license plate tracking program already exists, housed within the DEA," the group said.
The Wall Street Journal, which examined the ACLU documents, reported that in 2011 the DEA had about 100 cameras installed on U.S. roads, as well as license plate readers on Interstate 95 in New Jersey. The highway is one of the most heavily traveled in the country and a major corridor for drug traffickers between Florida and New York.
The DEA is part of the U.S. Justice Department.
"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," a department spokesman said.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said he was concerned about privacy and the use of the program to seize cars, money and valuables from suspects.
"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 Journal.