Since at least 2010, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has been expanding a regional license plate reader (LPR) program to the entire United States. Previously the program was only known to be concentrated in the border region of the American Southwest.
The revelation comes from new documents obtained and published late Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents also show the DEA captured over 793 million license plates from May 2009 through May 2013 with the stated goal of drug-related asset forfeiture.
LPRs scan plates at very high speed—often 60 plates per second—and record the date, time, and precise location that a given plate was seen. On a patrol car, that plate is then immediately compared to a list of wanted or stolen cars, and if a match is found, the software alerts the officer.
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