ICYMI: The DEA Has Been Tracking License Plates Since 2008


There has always been a tug of war when it comes to the government’s responsibility to ensure public safety and privacy concerns. We can all agree that ‘bad guys’ need to be caught, but at the same time that doesn’t give the government the right to do whatever it wants to achieve that goal. If someone is a law abiding citizen, they shouldn’t have to look over their shoulder wondering if they are constantly being watched.

Waging a War on Marijuana, and the Drug War in general, has led to many infringements of civil liberties. An example of surveillance gone wrong, the DEA has been collecting license plate information since 2008. Per the Pacific Standard:

The DEA program collects data about vehicle movements, including time, direction and location, from high-tech cameras placed strategically on major highways. Many devices also record visual images of drivers and passengers, which are sometimes clear enough for investigators to confirm identities, according to DEA documents and people familiar with the program.

The documents show that the DEA also uses license-plate readers operated by state, local and federal law-enforcement agencies to feed into its own network and create a far-reaching, constantly updating database of electronic eyes scanning traffic on the roads to steer police toward suspects.

One of my all time favorite quotes comes from a Supreme Court case dealing with privacy. The case is Olmstead v. U.S. (1928) and the quote is from Justice Brandeis, “The right to be left alone—the most comprehensive of rights, and the right most valued by a free people.” Every American deserves to live their lives without big brother, whether it involves the scanning of license plates or otherwise.

Anthony Johnson

Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon’s ca