In a move bound to reenergize debates about privacy, government surveillance and—yes—the power of big data, the Wall Street Journal has revealed how the Justice Department has been hard at work on a national database, designed to track the real-time movement of vehicles around the U.S.
Run by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the database draws on information gathered by cameras on major highways in the U.S. Using these cameras, it is possible to identify license plates, and sometimes even the identity of individual drivers and passengers. The goal is to help crack down on cars involved with drug trafficking, although the database could be used to investigate other types of crime.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the project began in 2008, in border states such as Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas. The program has since expanded, though it’s not known exactly which states are currently contributing to the database. Some states, such as Utah, have previously stated their opposition to technologies such as license plate readers.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department said the program is in compliance with federal law.