Tag Archives: Gps

Boston PD Suspends ALPR Program After Massive Privacy Violation

Just before Christmas, Muckrock and the ACLU of Massachusetts brought out excellent articles based on a full year of Muckrock’s investigative reporting into Boston PD’s use of automated license plate recognition technology.

ALPR systems automatically photograph and store in a police database the license plates of any car an ALPR-equipped police vehicle passes. The car may be parked or driving. It could be on the Pike, in a driveway, or anywhere a camera can reach. The question was, what does the Boston PD do with the mountain of data once it has it?

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Sauce for the Gander: Boston Police Officers Apparently Don’t Like Being “Followed All Over The Place”

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From the ACLU of Massachusetts:

Boston Police Department bosses want to install GPS monitoring devices in every patrol car, to enable dispatch to more efficiently process 911 calls. But police officers and their union are outraged, saying that the ubiquitous tracking is too invasive of their personal privacy. Tracking the location of officers as they go about their days would reveal incredibly detailed information about their lives, the officers say.

It must be just awful to go about your daily life looking over your shoulder, conscious that your every movement and activity is being recorded and could be used against you. Oh, wait. That’s what the entire American public is already dealing with, in this age of mass electronic surveillance. But the way the police union is hissing’n’flapping about it, it’s almost as if there was something wrong with that. Don’t they know that you have nothing to fear, if you have nothing to hide?

The ACLU’s tack is that if the police don’t like the feeling of being followed, they shouldn’t be pushing for technologies like mass tracking of license plates or cellphone locations. That’s fair enough, but there’s a larger point here also.

Police officers are public employees, and they would be monitored during, and only during, the performance of their duties as public officials employees. We require elected officials to disclose their votes publicly, and require secrecy for private individuals at the ballot box, even though that’s inconsistent, because public disclosure of how public business is conducted is vital to maintain democratic accountability. In the same way, close monitoring of law enforcement is vital, to ensure that police don’t abuse the vast and special powers society gives them. When you put cameras on cops, complaints about police misbehavior and brutality drop like a stone. We have the right – affirmed by the federal courts in the First Circuit and across America – to record the police in the commission of their duties. The Fourth Amendment constrains the actions of the government, not the actions of members of the general public.

The Boston police may not like it – last week’s PINAC case shows that they’re willing even to threaten people with felonies to avoid public embarrassment over misconduct – but they are not entitled to a high level of privacy protection in their capacity as police officers. That distinction matters. Doxxing police officers’ personal names and phone numbers and addresses is not cool. But recording them, having them record themselves, and encouraging people to call their office numbers and hold them accountable to the public, is vitally important in order to preserve freedom for the rest of us.

Ray of Light in Massachusetts: Supreme Judicial Court Rules in Commonwealth v. Rousseau that GPS Tracking Requires Probable Cause, Mere Fact of Surveillance Establishes Standing

In a week of devastating disclosures about government surveillance, here’s one ray of light.

The ACLU of Massachusetts reports the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court‘s verdict in Commonwealth v. Rousseau. In separate trials, John Rousseau and Michael Dreslinski were each convicted of four charges relating to a spree of burning and vandalizing properties. As part of their case, law enforcement had obtained a warrant to place a GPS tracker on Dreslinski’s truck for 15 days, which was then renewed twice. Two issues came up: whether GPS tracking needed a warrant anyway, and whether Rousseau had standing to challenge the warrant as he had no property interest in Dreslinski’s car.

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Microscope Monday: Analysis of Massachusetts’ proposed License Plate Privacy Act, H 3068 / S 1648

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One of the curious things about digitization is that it allows data to be circulated and shared almost effortlessly. New, cheap ways of sharing and storing data can turn data collection that was previously quite innocent into a serious threat to our ability to be free from government surveillance.

Historically, the law has recognized no constitutional issue with law enforcement collection of license plate numbers, because cars are normally out in public when the numbers are collected. But what happens if cop cars can collect every license plate from every car they pass, moving or parked; check the plate against a database of outstanding warrants; link them to GPS coordinates; and retain the records of which car was where forever, so that they can retrospectively construct a map of your movements?

Well, folks, that bright new day is here. The devices are called “automated license plate readers”, or ALPRs for short. And the ACLU of Massachusetts is supporting a bill that tries to grapple with their implications, and that received its first Joint Committee on Transportation hearing on May 16.

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