DOJ spied on millions of cars to build real-time tracking database

The Justice Department has been secretly building a massive database to help federal law enforcement track the movements of millions of vehicles across the U.S. in real time, according to a report Monday in The Wall Street Journal.

The program is run by the Drug Enforcement Administration and tracks license-plate information from cameras placed on highways. The information gathered includes time, location and directional data.


The agency hoped to use the data to seize vehicles and other assets from drug traffickers. But the report says the database has also been used to locate vehicles believed linked to other crimes, including kidnappings, and has been accessed by state and local law enforcement officials.

Officials had previously admitted that they track vehicles near the U.S. border with Mexico but had not disclosed that the program also tracks vehicles "throughout the United States," according to an email obtained by the Journal.

A spokesman for the DOJ defended the program.

“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,’ the spokesman told the Journal.

But the revelations about the DEA's spying on citizens' vehicles and movements will likely fuel the debate in Washington about the extent of the government's mass surveillance programs.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyBuzzFeed story has more to say about media than the president GOP insiders knock their depictions in new Dick Cheney biopic ‘Vice’ Barr: It would be a crime for president to pardon someone in exchange for their silence MORE (Vt.), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee told the paper that the program "raises significant privacy concerns."

"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 added.

According to the report, the DEA also uses cameras for state and local agencies to feed its database.