“The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives collaborated on plans to monitor gun show attendees using automatic license plate readers, according to a newly disclosed DEA email obtained by the ACLU through the Freedom of Information Act.” That’s the inside dope from the ACLU, a civil rights organization that skips the number two when counting to ten (if you know what I mean). Which means the ATF’s plan for indiscriminate search must have been fairly egregious. Yes. Yes it was. Here’s what the American Civil Liberties Union uncovered in the aforementioned email . . .
The April 2009 email states that “DEA Phoenix Division Office is working closely with ATF on attacking the guns going to [redacted] and the gun shows, to include programs/operation with LPRs at the gun shows.” The government redacted the rest of the email, but when we received this document we concluded that these agencies used license plate readers to collect information about law-abiding citizens attending gun shows. An automatic license plate reader cannot distinguish between people transporting illegal guns and those transporting legal guns, or no guns at all; it only documents the presence of any car driving to the event. Mere attendance at a gun show, it appeared, would have been enough to have one’s presence noted in a DEA database.
Responding to inquiries about the document, the DEA said that the monitoring of gun shows was merely a proposal and was never implemented. We were certainly glad to hear them say this, as we had rationally, based on the scrap of information left unredacted in the document, concluded that gun show monitoring was underway. After all, this would not be the first time that the government has used automatic license plate readers to target the constitutionally protected right to assemble. In 2009, the Virginia State Police, in collaboration with the Secret Service, recorded the license plates of vehicles attending President Obama’s inauguration, as well as campaign rallies for Obama and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. And unfortunately our security agencies — yesterday and today — have shown a pattern of engaging in systematic surveillance of peaceful assembly.
The DEA’s statement alleviates some concerns, but if the program was cancelled, why didn’t we get any documents reflecting that decision in response to our FOIA request? The agency should now release such documents, and also create and release a written policy that it will not target First Amendment-protected activity in the future.
As I said, the ACLU can’t bring itself to publicly recognize that the right to keep and bear arms is a natural, civil and Constitutionally protected right. Hell, they can’t even say the words “gun rights.” Still, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And this fight against the jack-booted agents of government tyranny (not to coin a phrase) ain’t over. Let’s just hope that former Texas Governor Rick Perry’s the next President of the United States and that he remembers TO ELIMINATE THE ATF. [h/t DrVino]
UPDATE [via AP]: “DEA Administrator Michelle Leonhart said in a statement that the proposal memorialized in an employee’s email was only a suggestion, never authorized by her agency and never put into action. The AP also learned that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives did not authorize or approve the license plate surveillance plan.”