Vote to protect motorists' privacy is first in state, maybe nationwide
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BOSTON -- Last night, the Brookline Board of Selectmen voted unanimously, 5-0, to oppose acceptance of a state grant that would have funded a police surveillance program with data sharing requirements that put Brookline residents at risk for serious privacy violations. This is the first time any community in Massachusetts, and possibly nationwide, has rejected state funding for automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) technology because of privacy concerns.
"This is a substantial victory for privacy advocates and for ordinary people in Brookline who don't want their travel information to be shared broadly with the state and federal governments," said Kade Crockford, privacy rights coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.
The Board will now consider a proposal from the Chief of Police to buy an ALPR system with town funds, allowing the Town and the Police Department to determine who has access to the travel data, thereby protecting the civil liberties of Brookline residents.
ALPR technology automates the collection of license plate data, enabling police to capture thousands of plates, and their locations, every hour. The machine converts license plate numbers into machine-readable text, and searches databases for wanted individuals, those with expired registrations or licenses, and more. The technology documents the GPS location information and time and date where and when the image was captured, enabling automated police tracking of motorists. With very narrow limits imposed on its use, the technology can be deployed without negatively affecting civil liberties. Unfortunately, use of the machines is spreading in Massachusetts and nationwide, entirely without these protections, becoming another mechanism enabling the tracking of ordinary people.
"The Brookline Board of Selectmen and the Chief of Police deserve credit for listening to their constituents and coming down on the right side of this issue, preserving those liberties that we hold dear," said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. "The ACLU of Massachusetts thanks the Board and the Chief, and looks forward to working with them and concerned community members to arrive at a conclusion that protects the privacy rights of ordinary people in Brookline."
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