ACLU of Massachusetts Questions Governor's Plan to Outsource Data Collection on Residents

March 31, 2005 12:00 am

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BOSTON — The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts today raised concerns about a decision by Governor Mitt Romney to spend tax dollars to give local law enforcement access to commercial databases that purportedly collect detailed information on 98 percent of all Americans.

“Outsourcing law enforcement functions to commercial database companies threatens to bypass important legal safeguards that have been put in place to protect our privacy,” said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Massachusetts taxpayers, who are financing this, need to know what information is being collected, who in law enforcement will have access to it, what they will be permitted to do with the information, and what safeguards are in place to prevent abuse.”

The governor’s office announced today that it had contracted with LocatePLUS Inc., a Beverly-based data-mining company, to provide licenses to local police departments to use the commercial database for law enforcement purposes, ostensibly to track sex offenders.

“Despite good intentions and initial justifications that this system is intended solely to track down sex offenders, officials have already admitted that it will be used for other purposes as well, and there are no guarantees that it won’t be used – or misused – to pursue other objectives,” said Rose. “LocatePLUS doesn’t limit its database to sex offenders. To the contrary, the company reportedly keeps billions of records and data on 98 percent of the U.S. population.”

Under the Massachusetts Fair Information Practices Act, Massachusetts residents can find out what information the state government has collected about them and correct that information if it is misleading or wrong.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions about this plan,” said Rose. “Will LocatePLUS give Massachusetts residents access to their records and an opportunity to correct errors in compliance with the Fair Information Practices Act? Does LocatePLUS collect its data in conformity with the Fourth Amendment?”

“For 200 years, we have relied on the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and article 14 of the state constitution to protect basic privacy rights,” she added. “We should not abandon these protections now by privatizing law enforcement investigatory powers. Commercial for-profit companies are not regulated or equipped to defend the basic constitutional freedoms of the American people.”

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