In a letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) questioned the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) use of a national database to track the movement of vehicles around the United States.
News reports this week revealed that the DEA has expanded its license plate reader (LPR) surveillance program from the Southwest Border to include states across the country. The database now includes hundreds of millions of records about motorists, and it reportedly allows the DEA to track motorists in real-time.
This is the third oversight letter the Senators have sent in recent weeks, raising privacy concerns about the use of emerging law enforcement technologies. Last week, they pressed the administration on the reported use of radar technology that may enable law enforcement agencies to track the movements of private citizens inside their homes. And last month, they questioned the use of cell-site simulators, which can indiscriminately sweep up the cell phone signals of innocent Americans.
In their letter Wednesday, the Senators reiterated: “We remain concerned that government programs that track citizens’ movements, see inside homes, and collect data from the phones of innocent Americans raise serious privacy concerns.”
“We also have questions about the way in which the DEA’s database is being used,” the Senators added. “According to one document, the primary purpose of the program is to broaden the reach of the DEA’s civil asset forfeiture efforts. Federal asset forfeiture programs have been the subject of recent controversy and we believe that greater transparency and oversight of civil asset forfeiture is needed. Any program that is dedicated to expanding the Justice Department’s forfeiture efforts requires similar oversight and accountability.”