Privacy SOS

Report: license plate tracking companies purposefully target low-income people

Today I'm testifying in support of the Drone Privacy Act in the Massachusetts state legislature. Here's my testimony.

My colleagues will be testifying in support of the License Plate Privacy Act, another critical privacy bill heard today before the Joint Committee on Transportation. 

Just in time for the hearing, today's Boston Globe features a front-page story on private corporations that harvest our license plate data, and then give or sell it to banks, cops, and insurance companies, among other groups. One of the most alarming revelations in the piece is that the companies that drive around scooping up this sensitive location tracking data purposefully target low-income housing:

Two repossession companies also told BetaBoston that they focus on low-income housing developments, since a significant number of residents are delinquent on their car payments.

“This is just another example of stereotyping,” responded Cambridge Housing Authority deputy executive director ­Michael Johnston, who had never heard of plate scanners before. “But our lots are open, and we don’t have any gated communities in our system, so I don’t know how to prevent it.”

This story comes on the heels of another Globe report on license plate readers, which prompted the Boston police to shelve its program. The reporter who has doggedly pursued these stories, Shawn Musgrave, published information on showing that the BPD had specifically targeted black and low-income neighborhoods with its plate reader program.

In surveillance, as with everything else, all is not equal. Take action now to support legislation to ban discriminatory surveillance, data hoarding, and retroactive location tracking.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.