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Important Committee Hearing for Massachusetts Bills to Limit License Plate Tracking

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BOSTON (Feb. 26, 2016) – The Massachusetts legislature Joint Transportation Committee will hold a hearing Monday on three bills that would put strict restrictions on automated license plate reader systems (ALPR), placing significant roadblocks in the way of a federal program using states to help track the location of millions of everyday people through pictures of their license plates.

House Bill 3009 (H3009), Senate Bill 1817 (S1817) and House Bill 3102 (H3102) would all place limits on the use of ALPRs, making it more difficult for the technology to be used to violate the privacy rights of Massachusetts residents.

State employees would have the discretion to lawfully use ALPR in a variety of ways, such as identifying stolen vehicles or investigating traffic violations, but there would be restrictions and transparency requirements creating substantial privacy safeguards.

H3009 and S1817 would deny state government officials access to “ALPR data from other governmental or non-governmental entities except pursuant to a valid warrant.” They would also be disallowed from obtaining or accessing information gathered by ALPR to “sell, trade, or exchange such data for any purpose.” Most importantly, all information gathered lawfully under the bill must be destroyed within 14 days unless it is needed for an ongoing criminal investigation pursuant to a valid warrant.

H3102 has slightly different provisions but would have substantially the same effect in practice.

The public hearing will take place Monday from 10 a.m. until 12 p.m. in room A-2 at the state capitol.

IMPACT ON FEDERAL PROGRAMS

By limiting the amount of time data can be stored, limiting access to information and placing restrictions on data sharing, These ALPR bills would help block a federal program tapping into such information.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the federal government, via the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) tracks the location of millions of vehicle. They’ve engaged in this for nearly eight years, all without a warrant, or even public notice of the policy.

State and local law enforcement agencies operate most of these tracking systems, paid for by federal grant money. The DEA then taps into the local database to track the whereabouts of millions of people – for the simple act of driving – without having to operate a huge network itself.

Since a majority of federal license plate tracking data comes from state and local law enforcement, passage of any of these bills would take a major step toward blocking that program from continuing in Massachusetts. The feds can’t access data that doesn’t exist.

Law enforcement generally configures ALPRs to store the photograph, the license plate number, and the date, time, and location of vehicles. But according to newly disclosed records obtained by the ACLU via a Freedom of Information Act request, the DEA is also captures photographs of drivers and their passengers.

According to the ACLU, one internal 2009 DEA communication stated clearly that the license plate program can provide “the requester” with images that “may include vehicle license plate numbers (front and/or rear), photos of visible vehicle occupants [redacted] and a front and rear overall view of the vehicle.” A 2011 email states that the DEA’s system has the ability to store “up to 10 photos per vehicle transaction including 4 occupant photos.” This clearly shows that occupant photos are not an occasional, accidental byproduct of the technology, but one that is intentionally being cultivated.

With the FBI rolling out facial a nationwide recognition program last fall, and the federal government building biometric databases, the fact that the feds can potentially access stored photographs of drivers and passengers, along with detailed location data, magnifies the privacy concerns surrounding ALPRs.

ACTION ITEMS
In Massachusetts, take all the steps to support this bill HERE.

All other states, start at HERE.