Privacy SOS

Police officer in Massachusetts accused of using database access to aid kidnapping

An alleged police officer involved kidnapping in Massachusetts reminds us why we shouldn't give cops blanket, unchecked access to billions of pieces of information about millions of people.

Behind the scenes, police officers have greater access to detailed information about millions of people than ever before. You need not have committed a crime to get caught up in the data matrix. No evidence of wrongdoing is required before cops can search through tens of federal, state, local, and corporate databases for information about your associations, family members, cars and location history, addresses, work history, biometric data, and much, much more.

Police say they need all of this information at their fingertips, and that we should just trust that they'll do the right thing. Officers are sworn to protect the public, they say. They don't need rigorous independent oversight or auditing systems to ensure the databases won't be abused. Just trust us, they say.

We shouldn't.

The Boston Globe:

A Dedham police officer was arrested Wednesday for allegedly allowing the mastermind of the kidnapping of an Avon man to use his department-issued equipment, including his badge, to persuade the victim to leave his home, officials said.

The officer allegedly assisted the kidnapping by providing the alleged kidnapper with information about the victim held in government databases, including his photo.

The local district attorney:

"It is alleged that [Officer] Schoener gave his Dedham Police Department issued badge, handcuffs, and empty holster to the mastermind of the kidnapping, James Feeney, and that Schoener also used department equipment to provide Feeney with a photograph and board of probation record of the victim, James Robertson."

Why should we fear government surveillance if we have nothing to hide? Someone might want to ask James Robertson that. But unfortunately, he's likely dead.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.