In the post-9/11 world, our government spies on us. A once-unfathomable concept has now become almost expected for the average American. Many rationalize this imbalance favoring security over privacy with the assumption that if they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to worry about.
However, it continues to surprise just how often, and when, the government chooses to intrude on everyday life. News of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s mass surveillance program is only the most recent reminder of the extent to which everyone is being watched.
A license-plate tracking system originally conceived to keep tabs on gun runners and drug traffickers along the southern border has morphed into a nationwide compendium of America’s highways and byways, and those who use them.
From its justifiable origins, the program has expanded into a national dragnet capable of seemingly tracking anyone who passes within view of the DEA’s 53 cameras or the countless others deployed in collaboration with local police agencies. Data from law enforcement agencies feed license-plate data into the central system based in El Paso, the American Civil Liberties Union has discovered.
While it is true that law-abiding citizens are largely free of suspicion, they are not above it, as recently evidenced by a DEA proposal — since dropped — to scan the license plates, for tracking purposes, of anyone attending gun shows. Such conduct seems to assume criminality from an otherwise legal behavior.
With cameras arrayed along freeways for all intents and purposes to monitor traffic mitigation and for safety, with such an alarming expansion in the scope of this largely secret DEA program, even the most seemingly innocuous programs can be viewed with suspicion in our creeping surveillance state. Americans must ask more of their government about the scope and nature of its security apparatus. If the government has nothing to hide, it has nothing to worry about.