Privacy SOS

Brookline police union raises privacy concerns about license plate tracking technology

The ACLU has long warned about the proliferation of license plate tracking technology, which in most states remains entirely unregulated. Police (and private companies) throughout Massachusetts and the United States are using license plate readers to collect information revealing the travel and life patterns of hundreds of millions of ordinary people. Absent specific statutes limiting the ways that police can use and store this information, cops are compiling these records in large databases, enabling warrantless location tracking of millions of people accused of no crime.

That's troubling!

And the ACLU isn't alone in voicing concerns about how location information can reveal sensitive parts of a person's life. A spokesperson for the Brookline police department union has told a local newspaper that officers aren't necessarily comfortable with being required to use a license plate reader in their patrol car, unless the union and department can work out policies that protect cops from unwarranted spying.

Although the license readers use GPS, perhaps the bigger concern for police officers is the use of GPS to track their own movements. The Police Department would like to use the tracking technology to better deploy officers using the dispatch system, said [Police Chief] O’Leary, who wants a next generation dispatch center that uses GPS to easier locate officers and their proximity to calls.

However, [union President] Maguire said the union wants to ensure that the technology won’t be used in a punitive way if officers are found outside of their patrol area, or if their activity is being tracked for other purposes.

“All human beings have a concern about being tracked,” he said.


© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.