SAN DIEGO — Federal agents and local police used license plate readers to identify and track visitors to gun shows, according to a new report.
Police set up a reader that recorded the license plate numbers of thousands of visitors to a gun show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds near San Diego in 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported. The license plate numbers were turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, who used the information to try and find gun smugglers crossing the US-Mexico border, emails obtained by the Journal indicate.
The plate on every vehicle that entered the fairgrounds for the Crossroads of the West gun show was recorded. Readers also were set up at gun shows in Ontario, California, and Cost Mesa, California.
Every License Plate Recorded
“We would like to see if you can support an outbound guns/ammo operation … at the Crossroads (Del Mar) Gun Show,” an email from ICE to unidentified law enforcement agencies states. “We would like to deploy license plate readers.”
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A license plate reader or scanner is a high-tech camera that automatically records an image of every plate it spots. A single reader can record thousands of numbers using digital imaging technology.
ICE tried to keep its use of the readers a secret, but Journal reporters were able to obtain emails about their use via the Freedom of Information Act. The agency, in a statement to the newspaper, acknowledged it had conducted the surveillance.
Privacy advocates expressed concern about the operation. Jay Stanley, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the surveillance “highlights the problem with mass collection of data.” Buying guns and crossing the border does not make someone a criminal, he said, but “because those two activities in concert fit somebody’s idea of a crime, a person becomes inherently suspicious.”
Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, also expressed concern.
“Information on law-abiding gun owners ends up getting recorded, stored, and registered, which is a violation of the 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act and of the Second Amendment,” Pratt told the Journal.
Bob Templeton, the CEO of Crossroads of the West, also was upset.
“It’s obviously intrusive and an activity that hasn’t proven to have any legitimate law-enforcement purpose,” Templeton said. “I think my customers would be resentful of having been the target of that kind of surveillance.”
His show draws between 6,000 and 9,000 people, the Journal reported.
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