DEA Considered Spying on Vehicles at Gun Shows For Database in 2009

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

An internal Justice Department email reveals a federal agent proposed in 2009 to use “license-plate readers” on cars around gun shows to gather information for use in gun-trafficking probes.

On January 27 DOJ officials said the proposal was “rejected” and “never implemented.”

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports that the email was a part of “a series of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) documents describing how the agency is building a national database tracking the movements of vehicles in 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,” said DEA administrator Michele Leonhart.

The existence of the email comes one day after the WSJ reported that the DEA “has been quietly building a database to monitor and store data about vehicles on major highways.” The database is used for “asset forfeiture,” whereby the possessions of motorists can be seized “if police officers suspect they are criminal proceeds.”

WSJ published the contents of the 2009 email with numerous redactions to protect the identity of the sender:

DEA Phoenix Division office is working closely with [the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives] on attacking the guns going to [redacted] and gun shows, to include programs/operation with [license-plate readers] at the gun shows.

The suggestion for using license-plates to gather information at gun shows came at approximately the same time that the Phoenix Division of the ATF was launching Operation Fast and Furious.

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