DEA Wants to Track Your License Plate, and You May Already Be Tagged!


Jim, I need you to affix a license plate to each of those tigers.

I distinctly remember, when I was a kid, watching an episode of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, during which Marlin Perkins lounged safely in a camp chair, while Jim Fowler put a lion in a headlock, bit a hole in the cat's ear, and then attached a tag for easy tracking. Well, it went something like that, anyway. It's been a long time. Too bad Fowler didn't work for the DEA, or even a biggish police department. He could have saved himself a little sweat and blood by tracking Americans instead of animals, by the simple expedient of setting cameras by the side of the road to capture license plates as they speed by.

The ACLU reports on a DEA plan to scan each and every license plate that passes along Interstate 15 in Utah, with the intention of storing the data for future reference.

The DEA wants to capture the license plates of all vehicles traveling along Interstate 15 in Utah, and store that data for two years at their facility in Northern Virginia. And, as a DEA official told Utah legislators at a hearing this week (attended by ACLU of Utah staff and covered in local media), these scanners are already in place on "drug trafficking corridors" in California and Texas and are being considered for Arizona as well. The agency is also collecting plate data from unspecified other sources and sharing it with over ten thousand law enforcement agencies around the nation.

With the DEA involved, of course the up-front rationale for the plan is to track and catch drug smugglers. But even as the DEA and two cooperating sheriffs presented the plan to the Utah legislature, they allowed mission creep to seep in immediately, suggesting that the data could be used against kidnappers and violent criminals.

The Salt Lake Tribune says the idea elicited some discomfort from lawmakers:

That, however, wasn't the concern of skeptical legislators on the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee. They were worried about the DEA storing the data for two years and who would be able to access it.

"It's not against the law to drive down I-15 from Utah to Nevada to gamble," said Utah Senate President Michael Waddoups, "but there are a lot of Utahns that would be pretty embarrassed by that."

Committee members asked for more information about the scanners and the data storage and agreed to discuss the issue at its June meeting.

The chairman of the committee hearing the DEA's pitch wound things up by cautioning a DEA representative, "A lot of us in Utah don't trust the federal government."

Much easier than wrestling an alligator!

The scanners, which are already in place in California and Texas, and are being considered for placement near Kingman and Flagstaff, in Arizona, record the license plate, the GPS coordinates and the direction of travel. That's quite a lot of information for government officials to record and store for future reference. Once in the system, license plates aren't just tracked — they can also trigger alerts, if they've been put on a list to be stopped.

Last year, the Washington Post pointed out that automated license plate scanners, costing about $20,000 each, are already in place all around the nation's capital.

Scores of cameras across the city capture 1,800 images a minute and download the information into a rapidly expanding archive that can pinpoint people's movements all over town. …

More than 250 cameras in the District and its suburbs scan license plates in real time, helping police pinpoint stolen cars and fleeing killers. But the program quietly has expanded beyond what anyone had imagined even a few years ago.

With virtually no public debate, police agencies have begun storing the information from the cameras, building databases that document the travels of millions of vehicles.

A 2010 study (PDF) from George Mason University's Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy revealed that "[o]ver a third of large police agencies have already adopted [license plate recognition]" even though there's been little discussion of its use, or of community concerns, and "the question still remains as to whether this technology is more effective in reducing, preventing, or even detecting crime."

NEXT: Are California Rail Authorities Looking to Cover Their Tracks with Email Purge?

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  1. Jim Fowler was for my money the biggest bad ass ever to appear on television. That guy would eat Bear Grills and the rest of these modern reality show pansies for breakfast. The entire show consisted of Marlin sending Jim out to do the craziest shit imaginable with the most dangerous animals in the world.

    1. I watched that show quite a bit as a kid. I remember the jingle: “Mutual of Omaha means people, just like Soylent Green.”

      1. Used to be on every Sunday night. So was In Search of and the Six Million Dollar Man. Sunday night television was the bomb in about 1976.

        1. Was that around the old Disney movie business? ABC?

          1. The Wonderful World of Disney was originally on NBC at 7 pm eastern. It aired in that spot forever. It always followed the late Sunday NFL game. It went off the air sometime in the early 80s. Then later CBS and then ABC picked it up. But that well after my Disney watching days were over.

            The whole point of at least the old 70s NBC version of the show was to make as many kids as possible cry over sick or dying animals. This was the show to watch the live action version of Old Yeller or Sounder.

            1. And Escape from Witch Mountain!

              1. I never got to see that one. My parents were too cheap to take me to the theater.

                1. I could swear that ran on The Wonderful World of Disney. Or maybe that was The Wide World of Sports. The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.

                  1. It probably did. I just never saw it in the theater and was probably too old to care when they finally ran it on TV.

                  2. I used to watch Disney all the time too and don’t remember ever seeing Witch Mountain.

                    1. I did, too, and I don’t remember you. So there.

                2. My parents were cheap, too, but they took us to the drive in, and smuggled in our own paper grocery bags full of home-popped popcorn.

    2. Steve Irwin – “I’m going to catch this crank dealer, and then stick my thumb up his arse!”

      1. Steve, rest his soul, was Jim’s retarded cousin. No comparison. Jim was the real deal.

      2. “Don’t try this at home, kids!”

      3. I always thought his wife Teri was pretty cute. There is something crazy sexy about a chick that plays with deadly snakes.

      4. You know, I liked him and was sad to see him go.

        1. I always did too. He was such a goofball.

    3. I can’t remember if SNL did a but about Fowler, but someone did satire on how Marlin would be sitting safely in a Hollywood studio and then would send Fowler out to go get raped by an full grown rhinoceros or something.

      Typical scene:

      Marlin:”And Male rhinoceros can get very angry during mating season, we sent Jim Fowler out in to the field to observe in their natural habitat.”


      1. There is always the lost Steve Smith episode. That one was deemed too disturbing for prime time TV. But has been on the dark nets for years.

  2. If you’re not doing anything wrong…

    1. we’ll still be spending your money to protect your children from the (insert panic here)

  3. Good freakin’ lord. They might just as well go ahead and start tattooing UPC symbols on us.

  4. “While Jim is giving the wild, ferocious, rabid wildebeest a hot-coffee enema, I’ll be here on the helicopter, sipping from a cold pitcher of margaritas.”

    Oh, and ChrisO… don’t put it past ’em. We’ll all be tagged someday.

    1. Lets just hope it is a catch and release and not a captive breeding program.

      1. Maybe the ChiComs can help out with that breeding program…

  5. Who wants to bet that Tucille also watched In Search Of… back in the day?

    1. Don’t be dissin’ the Nimoy Mystery Theater

    2. Who didn’t watch that? If you were down with alien landing pads in the South American desert or reminents of Atlantis in the Caribbean, you just were not hip.

    3. Come on, I loved that show. Nimoy! So it was a little. . .credulous.

      1. That show was the shit. I’d still watch it if reruns were available.

          1. I can’t fit that into my budget until I get some bills paid off, but yeah, I’ve looked into it.

            I live a pretty meager lifestyle, unfortunately.

            1. After getting a Kindle Fire, I signed up for Amazon Prime. That gets you a decent library of free stuff to watch. In fact, I watched (for the first time in several years) a couple of TOS episodes last night. And I’ve been watching Blackadder for “free”, too.

              1. I’ll hafta look into something like that down the road. Thanks big.

              2. How does the movie/tv selection compare with Netflix?

                1. Don’t know. There’s also ones you can pay for. I’ve been watching House episodes from the season that just ended for $1.99/episode or something like that.

              3. I love Blackadder.

                1. I’m trying to figure out which is my favorite series. Probably the second, though Hugh Laurie was a great ditz in the third.

              4. TOS and Blackadder are both on netflix.

                I can’t fit that into my budget

                $15? Wow, that is some precision budgeting.

                1. (on the flipside, netflix doesn’t get you free/cheap shipping on stuff, so…)

                  1. I’m afraid it is, wylie. I just got another part-time gig, so hopefully I won’t be scrimping too much longer.

                    1. I shouldn’t be talking, FIFY, I’d be $15 above “living-paycheck-to-paycheck” by canceling my netflix subscription. or my WoW subscription.

                      Ofcourse, I’d just spend that $15 on Chinese takeout anyway, so w/e.

      2. Yeah. Not only was Mr Spock the science officer but he was a Vulcan. He couldn’t be lying to make that stuff up. He’s certainly better than the Ancient Aliens douche.

        1. Clearly, a Vulcan wouldn’t lie to us, and his very existence proves that aliens are among us.

          1. “Logic is a little bird tweeting in meadow; logic is a wreath of pretty flowers which … smell bad…”

            1. Yes, that’s correct. Not lies.

    4. One of the greatest shows ever.

      1. I liked the one about Butch Cassidy surviving Bolivia.

  6. I’m voting for the head of Richard Nixon, because only he supports our freedom to choose which hand into which our career chip will be implanted.

  7. “A lot of us in Utah don’t trust the federal government.”

    My opinion of Utah went up a bit reading that.

    1. In a lot of cases it’s because the government keeps them from punishing the non-mormons around them.

    2. 100 is a lot.

  8. I’m trying to figure out why the DEA is limiting itself to traffic through Utah.

    Seriously, they should be tracking EVERY license plate in the country, because eventually someone who knows someone else will drive through Utah, and Commerce Clause.

    And, possibly, fried chicken.

    1. came to make a commerce clause comment, though I wasn’t planning on adding any remarks related to fried chicken.

      Well played, sir.

      1. (It’s not against the law to drive down I-15 from Utah to Nevada to gamble, bam, CC’d, outlaw that shit!@!11one)

        1. I does my bestest, wylie, and I has my moments.

  9. So with all this automation….all the labor saving devices being provided to the “law enforcement community” when can we expect the next round of layoffs and pay reductions?

    If the machines, computers and software are going to do the heavy lifting catching criminals why do we pay the thin blue line so much money?

    1. Skynet?

      1. I’m not sure what, if anything, even the military, much less LEOs, can do to prevent the massive nuclear strike that SKYNET will drop on us, but hey, if it helps you/them sleep at night.

        Just remember, SKYNET never sleeps. Because It has administrator control over Its powersaving settings, I mean.

        1. Does SKYNET refer to itself in the first person, or otherwise?

          1. It’s pretty much impossible to find out, since everyone who tries gets terminated.

  10. Just wait until someone figures out how to mount one of those cameras on a drone.

    1. being gov’t, we shouldn’t have to worry about that advance till a few years after the commercialization of fusion power.

  11. This line of argument bothered me:

    “It’s not against the law to drive down I-15 from Utah to Nevada to gamble,..but there are a lot of Utahns that would be pretty embarrassed by that.”

    How about:

    “”It’s not against the law to drive down I-15″…that should be sufficient.

    1. “It’s not against the law to drive down I-15.”


  12. I guess after the tease article about pot legalization we were due for a nut punch. Never gonna happen.

  13. More than 250 cameras [costing about $20,000 each] in the District and its suburbs scan license plates in real time

    Bastards! There’s 250 jobs going unfilled in DC alone!

  14. When do you think someones dog will be shot during a raid because he drove down the road one too many times?

    1. Only if it’s on the roof.

      1. you tie dogs to the rear bumper, not put them on the roof. which places them pretty close to the license plate while their running to keep up with the car.

        1. damn you “their”, *shaken fist*

  15. Robbed I was.

  16. If you are so concerned about your privacy, maybe you should take mass transit. Oh, that’s right…

    1. I look forward to the next sex scandal where the Senator gets caught lying about his whereabouts thanks to a full record of his whereabouts stored in a gubmint computer.

    2. As the guard dog smelled him, Vetter — who has two dogs of his own — told the officer that it probably was reacting to the smell of Vetter’s pets. “The TSA officer said ‘OK’ or something like that.”

      He probably said ‘That’s what all you terrorists try to pull!’

    3. I don’t see how these guys aren’t sued into next year under Section 1983 suits. Sorry, my buying a train ticket is not probable cause for search.

      1. my buying a train ticket is not probable cause for search

        That argument pretty much went out the window with random roadblock searches.

        Privilege, you can always walk, etc…

  17. You know, seriously, it’s the principle of the thing. The government shouldn’t be spying on us out of principle, no matter what the stated purpose or goal is, they simply shouldn’t be doing these things out of principle. For once I wish there was a news story about how, “technology has advanced to the point where a camera can count the hairs on your back under your shirt, but law enforcement agents have declined to use it because they just don’t think it’s the right thing to do in America.” But alas.

    And the worst part is that most stupid ass dumb Americans just don’t give a shit, including the stupid ass dumb folks who work for these law enforcement agencies and think they’re doing the right thing by fighting bad guys and drugs.


  18. So why didn’t the Utah legislators have their capitol police force arrest the DEA representatives on the spot, for conspiring to violate the civil rights of Utahns? Dont’ tell them you’re wary of the federal government, show them, and make it clear that the sentiment ought to be returned.

  19. Talk about going after low hanging fruit. Every successful drug runner I have ever known used rental cars for the long distance portion of the trip.

  20. “It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself–anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face…; was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime…”

  21. The DHS gave these to my local pd and the cops drive up and down the rows of parking stalls at the mall in my town scanning and recording every license plate. Its one of the biggest malls in the state and there are thousands of cars parked there every day. Its like a data miners wet dream. The last time someone tried to bring it up at a town council meeting they were told to stop being so paranoid and that if they weren’t breaking the law they had nothing to worry about.

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