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“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.”

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  1. Strange bedfellows indeed…”I don’t want to take your guns” says pretty much every gun-grabber.

    • Somebody needs to explain to me how FOIA is complied with when documents are allowed to be 99% redacted. Sending a 50-page doc with nothing but dates and sentence fragments visible is not any sort of free information. And who is the arbiter of what can and cannot be redacted? Does a judge or some “impartial” 3rd party read the full document and then inform the FOIA requestee what they are allowed to redact and what they must leave visible?

  2. I assume the only reason the ACLU is interested is because a transgendered undocumented neo-nazi got caught up in the sweep.

    • The reason why ACLU is involved is because it is about your civil rights. Yes, they do not consider 2A to be a civil right, and they’re open about it. Why pro-gunners consider them as enemy because of that, I’ll never understand. Their position is neutral – they neither support nor oppose gun control per se. Meanwhile, there are a bunch more equally important constitutional rights which they do consistently protect, regardless of who is denied them and in what context (like in this case, where gun rights are incidental to the primary infringement of the right to not be subjected to unreasonable search without a warrant). You don’t think those rights are important to protect as well as RKBA?

      It’s actually rather sad that RKBA has like half a dozen non-profits dedicated solely to its protection, while all the others – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, protection against illegal searches and arrests, voting rights etc – have pretty much only ACLU to defend (there are others, but none of that scale or importance).

      • The ACLU is not only selective in which civil liberties it protects, it is also selective in who it protects. In fact, many of their proposed measures trample on the rights of private business owners (particularly freedom of association). For example, if a coffee shop owner fires someone for coming to work in drag, and the customers are OK with that (or don’t care enough to stop spending money there), why the hell is it any business of the government at any level? Granted, if someone is into cross dressing, that’s their right. But working for a particular private business cannot be a right in anything approaching a free society. Yet, an ACLU rep asked me for money to support new laws to this effect.

        Just because the ACLU often opposes government action, don’t ever make the mistake of thinking they aren’t deeply authoritarian. I know you didn’t make that last statement, but I think it needs to be said.

        • In many cases, people’s rights are in conflict and you have to choose which is more important. I know that libertarians in particular are fond of “strict negative rights only” interpretation of things that does not have this conundrum, but in the civil rights era, we’ve seen how this works in practice to effectively deny large swaths of the population the ability to live and function even without any government regulations in place, simply by virtue of the oppressive majority silently colluding to deny any service and otherwise make life difficulty.

          According to the negative rights interpretation, all those racist bigots in the South were just exercising their right of free association, and no real harm was done. Pragmatically, it’s obvious (to me, at least) that harm was there and quite real and broad, necessitating the Civil Rights Acts which ACLU supported at the time. So as far as I’m concerned, they’re on the right side of the fight, though I see how a libertarian can think differently.

          (Then again, gun rights organizations also fight for laws like those mandating that employers allow storage of guns in their private parking lots, which also, strictly speaking, infringes on their property rights… but I haven’t seen anyone dump NRA because of that.)

        • I understand the “only grocery store in town” argument. It’s a valid point, but whereas there can be no true freedom without freedom of association, nobody has a right to be accepted. If you want to eliminate bigotry, use information, education, and positive examples. Persuasion is more difficult than naked force. But it does work over time. Further, it’s moral and doesn’t leave behind a residue of laws which, no matter how well intentioned, can be abused by those who would impose their will on others by force of arms.

          Anyway, I understand that everyone has their preferred point on the libertarian-authoritarian continuum.

          The NRA point is interesting. I frankly had not considered that.

      • They are not neutral on the 2a, they do not believe it is an individual right.

        Given the reference to “a well regulated Militia” and “the security of a free State,” the ACLU has long taken the position that the Second Amendment protects a collective right rather than an individual right.

        Although ACLU policy cites the Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Miller as support for our position on the Second Amendment, our policy was never dependent on Miller. Rather, like all ACLU policies, it reflects the ACLU’s own understanding of the Constitution and civil liberties.

        • A belief is neutral by itself. They wouldn’t be neutral if they advocated for their interpretation to be adopted. At one point the national organization actually did just that for some time (if you ever heard of “ACLU Policy #47” on some conservative website, that’s what it referred to), but there was considerable unease with many local chapters from more gun-friendly states, and they have successfully pointed out that any such endorsement does not in any way follow from ACLU’s civil rights policy and does not further its goals, and so shortly after was retracted and the present stance adopted. To quote ACLU itself:

          “When the Board adopted the June 1979 policy, it was suggested that it was unclear as to whether or not the ACLU supported gun control as a civil liberties matter, or simply did not oppose government regulation on this issue. In order to clarify this question, the following sentence was added to paragraph three of the policy as a footnote. “It is the sense of this body, that the word ‘justifies’ in this policy means we will affirmatively support gun control legislation.”

          At the April 12-13, 1980 Board meeting, the policy’s footnote was reconsidered. Several Board members believed that the statement was inconsistent with the rest of the policy because there was no civil liberties rationale within the policy for affirmative ACLU support of gun control legislation. The Board then moved to refer the policy to the Due Process Committee to refine and discuss further the rationale for affirmative ACLU support of gun control legislation.

          At the June 23-24, 1982 Board meeting, the Due Process Committee recommended deletion of the footnote from the gun control policy. The Committee’s recommendation was based on the fact that no acceptable civil liberties rationale could be developed for affirmative support of gun control legislation. The link between guns and the breakdown of civil liberties, the Committee suggested, contains too much of the approach to crime control. And crime control, the Committee said, includes measures violative of civil liberties. The possibility that a person who might be defending his or her self at home might be arrested for the use of a handgun is troubling. If we support gun control legislation, we are encouraging the police to search homes, cars, and persons.

          The Due Process Committee suggested that the problem with the footnote was that it was indefensible on civil liberties grounds, and that it is not the ACLU’s role to commit the ACLU to involve ourselves in social issues by finding a constitutional basis where there is none. Even though gun control is a desirable social objective, and it would be nice to find a civil liberties rationale for affirmative ACLU support of gun control legislation, the Committee noted that the ACLU has never supported particular remedies for particular crimes, and as such, we cannot support gun control legislation.

          The Board approved the Committee’s recommendation, and deleted the footnote from the existing policy, but left intact the basic policy which expressed the ACLU’s views.”

          The nice thing about the current language is that state ACLU organizations can and do go above and beyond what national ACLU says on the matter. For example, ACLU of Arizona explicitly considers RKBA to be a civil right, and its violations to be relevant for their mission, same as any other.


        They endlessly pat themselves on the back for defending the “right” of traitorous neo-Nazis to harass elderly Holocaust survivors, but sneer at gun rights and announce that there is nothing wrong with putting someone in prison for a year for being in possession of a BB — not even a BB gun, just a single BB — under Massachusetts’ Bartley-Fox law.

        • The right of neo-Nazis to “harass” someone is the same exact right that lets you post comments like that here. Or the other usual right-wing tripe about Muslim dictator Obama, traitors who must be killed for burning the flag, “molon labe” etc.

          And if you want someone to defend your gun rights, there’s no shortage of people dedicated to that. ACLU specifically said that they don’t. Why this is held against them as some kind of curse, I’ll never understand. Are you the kind of person who hammers nails with a wrench? If not, then you go to NRA and SAF for your gun rights, not to ACLU (and, conversely, you go to ACLU for your free speech rights, not to NRA).

          I really don’t know how to explain it any simpler than that.

      • If cops were honest we wouldn’t need the ACLU. I have seen more honorable lawyers than I have honest cops.

      • I realize that to some folks the ACLU is a dirty word – they often do defend rights, especially that may be unpopular.

        That said the ACLU has, and continues to take cases that are pro-gun. Regardless of their public stance that relies on the heavily flawed interpretations of Miller

        I’m far less concerned with why they take the cases. I’m just glad they do.

        • And labor unions have done some good too but I have no use for them either. Just because some crooked organization promoted a few changes for the better, doesn’t mean those changes would not have taken place otherwise. These are all self serving organizations and they can all go to Hell.

      • Are you suggesting that he shouldn’t have had fair representation in court? As recognized in the Constitution?

      • ACLU also represented neo-Nazis and KKK members.

        And guess what? Because they did, you actually have a right to true freedom of speech in this country:

        Rights are rights, regardless of who practices them. Either all have them, or they’re privileges and not rights. It so happens that people who are dishonest, despicable or outright criminal have their rights violated more often than the other kind, because it’s easier to get away with it – precisely because people have the same reaction as you and go, “well, but he’s an asshole, so it’s okay if we shut him up and not let him speak”. Of course, the definitions also vary with time – e.g. in WW2 it was “well, but they’re Japs, so it’s okay if we stuff them into concentration camps”.

        ACLU is remarkably consistent in defending the rights of anyone and everyone. You may not agree with the particular set of rights they have deemed to be worth protecting (and, FWIW, they don’t claim it to be identical to the rights protected by US Constitution), but they always get involved whenever and wherever anyone is denied one of those rights.

  3. They aspire to expand their bureaucratic empire. All hail:

    Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives, Counterfeiting, Espoionage, and Sexcrime (BATFECES)

    • good, because the NRA wants to sell our privacy out for our guns, and blame mental illness
      NRA, SAF, NSSF, and GOA for muh guns
      EFF/ACLU for privacy and free speech

    • The privacy concerns are fairly obvious.

      What’s amazing is that the ACLU is concerned about protecting the privacy of those racist, stupid, uneducated redneck gun nuts with small penises.

      • ACLU has represented racists of all stripes in the court before – from American Nazi Party and KKK to Nation of Islam. Because no-one else did, and they believe that literally everyone deserves to have those rights and freedoms, regardless of their views on anything (including, ironically, those very freedoms).

        This approach was chiefly responsible for one of the biggest victories to expand the First Amendment in the USA, making it the most free country in the world when it comes to speech:

  4. On an unrelated note, I noticed that today, the autoplay video in the ads, that will go on to hog every bit of memory on your system if you don’t pause it, is now sometimes unpausable.

    On some systems I have ad block enabled, on some, I can’t do it.

  5. It’s funny how many people get on that list that don’t even go to gun shows. Our local shows are at a convention center that will have one or two other things going on at the same time. Bridal show, illegal gun owners damn that’s funny. Rest assured all tyrants fall. Even the anonymous alphabet soup jackboots and their handlers. Or should I say holders?

    • I once walked into a gun show with my buddies only to discover it was a flower show. Wrong side of the convention center.

      • I once walked into a flea market thinking it was a gun show. Except it was billed as a gun show.

        Our gun shows suck.

    • There is a giant convention center in St. Charles that once had a gun show on one floor and an anime/cosplay convention on another… they shared a central escalator for access… Most hilarious mixed crowds ever.

  6. Those systems are quite expensive. A lot of research and development in computer vision technology and algorithms has gone into them.

    Back into your parking space.

      • More do than don’t. The 19 states that do not require front plates are: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

      • All they need is a car at each ingress/egress point. That’s all. It’ll record everyone. And many states have few laws on retention of this data. Since storage is free for all intents and purposes, it’ll be archived forever.

    • Put “carmax” or other decal plates from a dealer on when going to a gun show. I had mine for six months before I got real plates.

  7. Someone who may have attended needs to sue and claim there name is on an illegally-maintained gun registry. Tie up them in court

    • I’ve been to every gun show in the valley for over a year. If you can get me pro bono I’ll do it.

  8. It doesn’t matter if you get rid of the ATF. You have to get rid of the federal “gun laws” too. Else if just goes to another agency…. Has a federal agency ever been eliminated?

  9. I trust the ATF as much as the ATF trusts me. If given the chance, they’d have no problem with Project Insight.

  10. 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.”

    I believe that statement as much as bill collectors believed me when I told them “the check is in the mail.”

  11. We’re just paranoid gun nuts when we suggest that our government tracks our phone calls and emails, scans our Fakebook accounts or uses automatic license plate readers to track our movements. Because our government would never, ever do such things. Not to law-abiding Americans.


    • It would be nice if they used some of that gear and dedication to track real criminals like illegal aliens .

      • It has never worked that way, and it never will.

        People in power view us the same way we view illegal aliens.

        • Not at all true.

          The people in power view illegal aliens as either potential future votes or cheap labor.

          They view gun owners as potentially violent lunatics who might someday start taking potshots at them.

          Don’t trust a politician any farther than you can throw them. Doesn’t matter which party they’re in.

  12. “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.”

    Maybe not at gun shows, but…
    Feds Are Spying on Millions of Cars With License Plate Readers

  13. This is a huge problem. For giggles, I started watching (from the library) the “Person of Interest” series. That went back 4-5 years (seasons). What was interesting is program was pre-Snowden. And for those who read Wired magazine, what the NSA was has been doing and the construction of their massive facility in Utah has been fairly well known in the tech circles week before Snowden. But to watch this TV series is chilling and unfortunately more true than fiction with respect to the technology and capability. The DEA gang and other Federal agencies using the technology to do their job is not surprising. But what is an even more growing concern is the overreach by those with the technology we see surfacing almost monthly now combined with the militarization of our local police forces. It begs the question, “Who really controls our federal government?” From my perspective, it seems increasingly out of control from the IRS to DEA to the ATF.

  14. FYI. The license plate is the property of the state of issue and is tied to your person and vin number. They are recording the tags in plain sight in public space. That means there is no violaiton of the Constitution especially if the state agrees to allow it since the tag is their property. Just because something is constitutional doesn’t mean it’s right but there is no recourse currently available.

    • Certainly, that is the argument that the government’s lawyers are making.

      Thankfully, judges here and there are starting to consider that automated, bulk collection of citizens’ data (including location) might be distinguishable from prior decisions that were based on far more limited capabilities.

    • This has nothing to do with 9-11. These technologies and capabilities have been evolving since the 1980s. It’s the dark side of the information revolution. Governments are the only ones watching and recording you.

      • You missed “NOT”
        In your post. Corporations hold So much data on you it isn’t even funny. Google “target knows teenager is pregnant before family does”

        And stores track phones through Wifi (even when you don’t connect to their wifi)

      • And the Patriot Act and the ever-expanding NDAA scope enabled and encouraged them by leveraging the post-9-11 “Terrist Under Every Bed” hype. Wave to the cameras next time you take a stroll downtown.

  15. And as we all saw with TTAG’s auto form fill debacle there’s no harm in bulk collection and retaining of data.

  16. At a gun show in Ohio several years ago, several of us observed an unmarked car with license plate readers trolling the parking lot. Somehow, I don’t believe they were just testing out the reader. When confronted by an attendee about what they were doing there, the (non-uniformed) driver sped off.

  17. Well, at least in AZ we are only required to have rear license plate. Guess it’s time brush up on my backwards parking skills.

      • Yes that one was a Horrible ruling.

        I could see an “acting in good faith” as a reason for dismissal of a lawsuit; but there is no way they should have used Any evidence from that.

        • The thing is, I don’t think the validity of the stop, or lack thereof, has anything to do with the cocaine found because the guy consented to a search of the vehicle. Once consent is granted, the Fourth Amendment no longer applies. If you’re in a public parking lot approaching your car a cop can’t roll up and just search your car without cause. However, the cop CAN walk over and ask for your permission to search the car and if you give your consent any evidence found during the search WILL be admissible because you willingly waived your Fourth Amendment rights. In this case, the search was not based on a belief that one broken brake light was a violation, but was conducted with the consent of the owner.

        • We really need a Miranda warning equivalent for 4A-invalidating consent. I don’t see why they need to warn you to avoid being considered in breach of 5A and 6A, but the same doesn’t work for search.

          Just come up with a specific consent request formula that clearly tells that it’s a request for a search, that it is not a demand and hence can be refused, and that if it is not refused then any evidence discovered during a search will be admissible in court later.

          Yeah, that means that more people will refuse searches, and police will need to get more warrants. I don’t see a problem.

  18. The issue with the Gov’t programs is they see everyone as bad guys. My guess is if they recorded your plate at say more than 10 shows you might see a black SUV trailing you on occasion.

  19. Have seen unmarked WI State Patrol cars driving slowly through gun show parking lots and felt a little strange to stare the guy in the eyes as he drove off. Sort of like an X-Files episode if you know what I mean. We are not alone….

    • Don’t just look at them.

      Get your phone out and take pictures.

      If they take pictures of us, we can damn well take pictures of them.

  20. ” …the proposal memorialized in an employee’s email was only a suggestion…”

    The real question, then, is; how much time do they devote to thinking up and sharing potential new infringements, and is that really something the taxpayers who will be made into federal criminals should be footing the bill for? Next up should be a FOIA from the NRA requesting any other emails from this apparent “gun grabber suggestion box,” which I bet would reveal participation with domestic anti gun groups.

  21. What they didn’t say was that they didn’t need to put a license plate reader at the gun show, they already had enough readers placed to track all of the attendees.

  22. I know a few people who’ve worked with this technology on a technical level. It’s actually pretty cool stuff when used as intended — looking for stolen cars and outstanding warrants. Real-time plate running, not bulk data collection, just like the cops would do already in a traffic stop. If that’s all they did with it (looking for stolen cars and warrants) at gun shows I’d be fine with that. But do I trust federal agencies with this technology around politically sensitive events? Not so much…

    • The question becomes, “does the random running of a plate by a flat foot” get recorded in police logs. Wait until house scanners go online.

  23. This is similar to an ATF program from a few years before it. In that one the ATF was harassing gun show attendees who were not even suspected of wrong doing. See for the government’s take on the matter.

    I can’t at this moment seem to find any good sources for what the NRA said about it. The recent events have washed all of those stories from the google search pages and I don’t have the time to dig into it.

  24. 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

    Sure………. Never approved or done. Of course I believe those 2 statements…NOT!

  25. “ACLU, a civil rights organization that skips the number two when counting to ten.”

    LOL, I will caveat that with “Left foot on number one and skips number two when counting to ten.”

  26. “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.”

    “If you like your doctor/health care plan, you can keep your doctor/health care plan.”

    Leading by example.

  27. Seems I remember this was done in Virginia some years back. It blew up in their faces at the time. I do not know or remember just which law enforcement agencies were involved, but I do think some were at the federal level.

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