Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents scanned license plates of customers at a California gun show despite no clear evidence of criminal activity at the event.
The Wall Street Journal received documents detailing the plan, after filing a Freedom of Information Act request, that revealed an operation recording vehicles plates at a gun show in Del Mar, California in 2010. The city is not far from the Mexican border, and emails said the information collected there was then compared to cars crossing the border in attempt to catch gun smugglers.
“We would like to see if you can support an outbound guns/ammo operation on (redacted) at the Crossroads (Del Mar) Gun Show,” said an email subjected “Request for Assistance” from an ICE investigator. “We would like to deploy license plate readers.”
The names of the sending and receiving agents were blacked out.
The information obtained by the Journal, which was heavily redacted, did not seem to indicate that any illegal activity was discovered as a result of the information gathering. While law enforcement agents can legally collect vehicle information, license plate scanners allow for mass data collection privacy advocates say violate constitutional rights. Attending a gun show is a constitutionally-protected activity.
According to emails seen by the Journal, police officers drove around the parking lot at the show in Del Mar scanning plates of cars there. An ICE spokeswoman confirmed to the Journal that Homeland Security Investigations agents did gather the vehicle data at the event.
“In conducting these operations, HSI San Diego and its partners make every effort to utilize all investigative methods for planning purposes,” she told the Journal. “As for specific methods, HSI San Diego does not comment.”
The emails indicated further operations were discussed, but there was no confirmation more plate scanning took place at other gun shows in California. The Journal had previously reported a similar plan to use the scanners by the Drug Enforcement Administration but that effort did not materialize. Local police implemented the operation for ICE.