Reuters/Brian Snyder

The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) considered tracking license plates at gun shows to develop a database of attendees, according to a newly released email. The Justice Department has a similar nationwide database compiled from surveillance technology.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) obtained an internal DEA email outlining the proposal to monitor parking lots outside a Phoenix, Arizona area gun show in 2009 by using automated license-plate readers (ALPRs). The intent was to aid gun-trafficking investigations.

The 2009 email is heavily redacted so as not to disclose the sender, recipient or much of the text beyond a single sentence: “DEA Phoenix Division office is working closely with ATF [the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives] on attacking the guns going to [redacted] and the guns shows, to include programs/operation with [license-plate readers] at the gun shows.”


Internal DEA email proposing license-plate readers at a Phoenix gun show (American Civil Liberties Union)

“[W]hen we received this document we concluded that these agencies used license plate readers to collect information about law-abiding citizens attending gun shows,” ACLU wrote in a blog post.“An automatic license plate reader cannot distinguish between people transporting illegal guns and those transporting legal guns, or no guns at all; it only documents the presence of any car driving to the event. Mere attendance at a gun show, it appeared, would have been enough to have one’s presence noted in a DEA database.”

The ACLU received the redacted email as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The internal message was part of a series of documents from the DEA outlining how the agency is building a national database tracking the movements of vehicles throughout the US.

“The proposal in the email was only a suggestion. It was never authorized by the DEA, and the idea under discussion in the email was never launched,” DEA administrator Michele Leonhart said, according to the Wall Street Journal..

The ACLU said that the agency’s response“alleviates some concerns,” but asked why the organization had not received any documents from the government reflecting its decision not to proceed in the DEA’s reply to the FOIA request.

“We were certainly glad to hear them say this, as we had rationally, based on the scrap of information left unredacted in the document, concluded that gun show monitoring was underway,” Bennett Stein and Jay Stanley wrote in the ACLU blog post. “After all, this would not be the first time that the government has used automatic license plate readers to target the constitutionally protected right to assemble.”

By RT News
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