The DEA Is Spying on Millions of Cars All Over the U.S.

With sweeping power to monitor the movements of so many Americans, the federal agency will continue to lose the hopeless drug war.

Once again, Americans face a tradeoff between liberty and security. On one hand, the Drug Enforcement Administration has been building "a database to track in real time the movement of vehicles around the U.S., a secret domestic intelligence-gathering program that scans and stores hundreds of millions of records." If you drive in populated areas your movements have very likely been tracked.

On the other hand, the result is that illegal drugs are no longer sold on U.S. streets, the price of getting high is too high for most to pay, and international drug cartels are all but gone, as are overdose deaths and street gangs that profit from narcotics.

I kid, of course—not about the huge imposition on the privacy of innocents that the federal government is perpetrating with a license plate tracking program run by the DEA, which is real, so much as the notion that the DEA will achieve success with it.

The DEA will obviously continue to lose the War on Drugs.

We've traded our freedom to drive around without being tracked for next to nothing. Those who would cede essential liberty for the promise of security may deserve neither, but ceding it for the promise of a drug-free America is just delusional. The federal government could imprison every recreational drug user in America and it still couldn't win the drug war because, among other things, the federal government can't even prevent heavy drug use within the federal prison system.

Even if the DEA spied on millions of Americans' phone calls it still wouldn't be able to win the War on Drugs, which I know because the DEA was also doing exactly that.

Not that the DEA thinks this is about winning the drug war so much as perpetuating itself. The Wall Street Journal writes, "One email written in 2010 said the primary purpose of the program was asset forfeiture—a controversial practice in which law-enforcement agencies seize cars, cash and other valuables from suspected criminals."

The ACLU, which exposed large swaths of this program by doggedly filing Freedom of Information Act requests, put out a statement that aptly articulates why the government's actions here are so wrong. Said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst, collecting location information about Americans not suspected of any crimes "raises very serious privacy questions. It’s unconscionable that technology with such far-reaching potential would be deployed in such secrecy. People might disagree about exactly how we should use such powerful surveillance technologies, but it should be democratically decided, it shouldn’t be done in secret.’’

Unfortunately, leaders in the U.S. law enforcement community feel that they're justified in secretly adopting sweeping new methods with huge civil-liberties implications.

Their behavior is an affront to self-government.