For anyone interested in how well meaning government policies and practices can be subverted or simply mis-implemented, please see the Globe article:
*Direct quotes from this article are indicated by trailing asterisk
Summary: The Boston Police operate an automated license plate scanner program. The purpose is to gather as much information as possible and then mine the data for information, such as stolen cars, unpaid tickets, etc. This classic “Big Data” approach is used by the NSA in telephone meta-data extraction (keep all records, just in case you need one, regardless of any privacy concerns).
Given the extra-national nature of the NSA’s records, there’s no implied right to privacy for most of their data, so there’s no retention requirements. The Boston Police, on the other hand, monitor US citizens and actually do have a retention policy. Unfortunately, they don’t follow it. The police inadvertently released to the Globe the license plate numbers of more than 68,000 vehicles that had tripped alarms on automated license plate readers over a six-month period. Many of the vehicles were scanned dozens of times in that period alone.*
The NSA has interdicted multiple terrorist plots, tracked pirates, etc, and has been reasonably successful with their program. Reading the Globe article revels that the Boston Police are not quire as effective — …numerous vehicles repeatedly triggered alarms for the same offenses. One motorcycle that had been reported stolen triggered scanner alerts 59 times over six months, while another plate with lapsed insurance was scanned a total of 97 times in the same span.*
Johnathan Hecht, rep from Watertown, is rightfully concerned.
“It’s not realistic to think that law enforcement will police itself when it comes to technologies like license plate readers,” said state Representative Jonathan Hecht, a Watertown Democrat who has filed a bill to regulate use of scanners and the sensitive data they collect.*
Hecht believes that the scanner technology has “gotten ahead of thoughtful policymaking on its use. . . . From their point of view, more information is always better.” (Hecht’s License Plate Privacy Act would slash the plate scan retention period to 48 hours except by court order and require agencies to report annually on their scanner use.) *
In case you’re wondering where YOU might have been in Boston in the past six months, just ask your Big Brother, the Boston cops, they probably already know “…the records finally released in July were unredacted, revealing full plate numbers and GPS location data for more than 40,000 different vehicles, most of which belonged to private citizens.*”
The net-net is that running big-data operations requires the careful oversight, critical technology and privacy management, costly resources and careful management which State and Local Government are not known for. It also requires a technical data competency which Government in general is clearly not known for.
Getting back to the NSA issue, as a US citizen I expect my Government to do whatever it can to protect me from extra-national terrorism, but at at the same time, I don’t want them spying on me. Them, or the Boston Police, or the Massachusetts State police or any of the 60 other agencies currently spying on me with plate readers. I am still a US citizen and I’m still entitled to some privacy, and I’m willing to have that right even if it makes policing a bit less effective. (and especially if the program itself is just not effective as clearly the Boston program is not).
This is not a new argument. Remember it was Benjamin Franklin who in 1755 said “They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
For those who feel the same, please contact Rep Hecht at Jonathan.Hecht@mahouse.gov in support of
H.3068 HD1117 By Mr. Hecht of Watertown, a petition (accompanied by bill, House, No. 3068) of Jonathan Hecht and others for legislation to regulate the use of automatic license plate reader systems. Transportation.
Rich Carlson, Belmont
PS – Kudos to muckrock.com & the Globe as well