USA Today reports that “Police in Latin America will soon have access to a Spanish version of a U.S. gun-tracking system that could widen efforts to hunt down crime suspects and weapons traffickers.” The system, eTrace, helps law enforcement track who buys U.S. guns.
Where a gun came from and who bought it is valuable data for Mexico, which has been fighting a bloody battle with drug cartels for years. Mexico says that thousands of weapons are smuggled to the cartels from the United States. The ATF agrees, though it notes that thousands of weapons found in Mexico have not been traced to the USA.
The eTrace computer system allows the ATF to track the unique serial number of a weapon. Requests for a trace are made by police to the ATF through a website. Then, police sometimes can identify “straw purchasers” who buy guns for others illegally or gun sellers who may be dealing with cartels. […]
The eTrace system in English has been used outside the USA for years. The National Rifle Association (NRA) says it worries that expanded use of eTrace could lead to private information about gun owners being leaked.
“There’s always a potential, especially when things are online, for errors to occur,” said Andrew Arulanandam, an NRA spokesman. “All it takes is one person clicking the wrong button, and all of a sudden a whole lot of information could be made public.”
Thomasson said there were no known cases of trace information being misused by foreign authorities. He said that only a few foreign police officers are allowed to use the system and that the ATF had vetted them.