Commentary

Ted Rall: Why is the US Tracking Your Car? Asset Forfeiture!

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Ted Rall
Written by Ted Rall

Why is the US tracking your car? Federal docs reveal that the DEA and cops are scanning license plates to track driving habits. Here’s the scary reason why.

aNewDomain — According to federal government documents released under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), federal and local law enforcement agencies are using incredibly sneaky technology to track you as you drive the nation’s streets and highways. Why is the US tracking your car?

In case the feds need to steal it.

This latest privacy scandal — a mash-up of privacy violations on a wide NSA-like scale, corrupt asset forfeiture programs that make a mockery of the U.S. as a nation that respects private property rights, and brazen targeting of lawful gun owners — is a perfect political storm. And it’s an outrage that ought to bring liberals, libertarians and conservatives together in an alliance of freedom-loving people against an out-of-control government.

Given the collective shrug elicited by the Edward Snowden revelations, however, expecting a big reaction may be unrealistic.

In the shell of a nut: the ACLU has learned that the DEA and local police departments are scanning every motorist’s license plate as they drive down American streets. The NYPD and LAPD have each already collected hundreds of millions of time- and place-tagged license plate scans. One private security corporation sells its composite list of two billion license scans to any police department or government agency that wants it. The Department of Homeland Security is teaming up with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to build and maintain a national database of license plate data to be shared with other parts of the U.S. security state apparatus.

Aggregated and analyzed, license plate tracking data forms a sophisticated model of your, and my, and everyone else’s habits, associations, shopping habits, friendships, and other activities. If you visit a porn store, they know — and their algorithms can predict when you’ll go again. But blackmail is not what’s on the cops’ minds … not for now, anyway.
They want your cash.

“Asset forfeiture” programs have become big business for law enforcement. Relying on dubious interpretations of the Constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure, American police agencies are taking in billions of dollars a year from people they arrest.

“Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing,” according to The Washington Post.

Total take: $5.3 billion.

If you think they’re confiscating the mounds of coke and machine guns they find in a drug kingpin’s trunk, think again. Pulled over for DUI? They take your car, sell it at auction and pocket the proceeds, or keep it for the cops’ own use. That’s on top of whatever jail time and fine the judge hands you if you get convicted.
Even if you’re found not guilty, they keep your car. And/or your cash. And/or jewelry. Anything valuable. Anything they want.

“No criminal charges are necessary for such seizures, and under federal and state laws, authorities may keep most or all seized assets even in the absence of formal charges. Countless innocent Americans have been victimized by what critics call legalized government theft,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Police have made cash seizures worth almost $2.5 billion from motorists and others without search warrants or indictments since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001,” says the Post. “Police spent the seizure proceeds with little oversight, in some cases buying luxury cars, high-powered weapons and military-grade gear such as armored cars.”

Talk about un-American: These renegade robber-cops are traitors.

Police have been so pleased with the money and other goodies they nab through asset forfeiture programs that they send officers to seminars that teach them how to maximize their take. Some victims have complained, and successfully proven in court, that they were targeted and entrapped by police whose motivation to detain and arrest them was solely to steal their possessions — but it’s expensive and time-consuming.

Among the money-making schemes cooked up by greedy cops was a 2009 plan by the DEA to “work closely” with officials of the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) “in attacking the guns going to and the gun shows, to include programs/operation with LPRs at the gun shows.”

But the DEA and ATF didn’t care about gun violence.

One internal email acknowledged that the tracking program’s primary purpose is civil asset forfeiture,” the Journal reports. They planned to set-up checkpoints around gun shows, search attendees’ cars using the pretext of a traffic stop, and arrest drivers on whatever charge they can come up with — some legit, others ginned up, in some cases no indictment at all — as an excuse to take their money and their cars. Which, even if they beat the rap, the cops get to keep.”

Note to self: carry $5 in cash, use a debit card.

The UK Guardian reports:

According to DEA documents, the primary goal of the program was to seize cars, cash and other assets belonging to criminals. However, the database’s expansion ‘throughout the United States,’ as one email put it, also widened law enforcers’ capacity for asset forfeiture.”

“It’s deeply concerning and creepy,” lawyer Clark Neily of the libertarian Institute for Justice told the newspaper. “We’re Americans. We drive a lot.”

That the US is tracking your car is also disgusting, cause for the immediate firing of every “law enforcement” official who has overseen an asset forfeiture program, and a perfect illustration of why only an idiot would trust the government.

For aNewDomain, I’m Ted Rall.

About the author

Ted Rall

Ted Rall

Based in New York, Ted Rall is aNewDomain's chief commentator and a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist. A Pulitzer nominee, Rall's latest book is the NYT bestselling book, Trump: A Graphic Biography.
Support his work and see his toons first at his site on Petreon.

  • alrui

    The “police” are simply modern day revenuers plain and simple! The also do very little true “policing” and a whole lot of “enforcement” as thats where the revenue is!

  • Sadly accurate, annd been going on for some time now. THIS passage is especially troubling:

    Police have been so pleased with the money and other goodies they nab through asset forfeiture programs that they send officers to seminars that teach them how to maximize their take

    That’s right; our police are now taught who to target so that their departments and (presumably they, personally) can make money effectively stealing. So let’s ask the really ugly question: THINK THERE ARE QUOTAS?