Today the ACLU of Massachusetts testified before the state legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee in support of proposals to regulate law enforcement and corporate use of license plate readers and the data they produce. If you haven’t heard of license plate readers, here’s the down and dirty: They are cameras, affixed to police cars and stationary objects, that capture thousands of license plates per minute, creating records not just of the image, but also the time, date, and GPS location when and where the image was captured. Law enforcement agencies and private companies alike are using license plate readers to amass enormous databases containing the sensitive location histories of millions of people accused of no crime. Twelve states have regulated the technology in some way; it’s time for Massachusetts to join them.
Three proposals currently sit before the Massachusetts legislature. All three of them seek to strike a balance between law enforcement desires to use license plate reader databases as historical repositories of sensitive location information, and the privacy and freedom interests of residents and visitors. The ACLU supports these proposals because we know that police can use license plate readers to great public safety effect without needlessly retaining location information on everyone, indefinitely. But absent commonsense law to restrain the practice, this kind of dragnet surveillance is exactly what’s happening.
Thankfully, the public’s interest has a champion in the committee chair, Representative William Straus, who has proposed his own license plate reader bill. If you care about privacy, and you want to make sure law enforcement can’t keep records of your movements forever, please call Rep. Straus and thank him for championing this issue. Private corporations with financial interest in exploiting these dangerous databases don’t want commonsense regulation, so our lawmakers need to hear from the people. You can reach Rep. Straus at 617-722-2400. When you call, make it clear that you support his proposal to regulate license plate readers, House bill 3102, and thank him for his leadership on this issue.