Boston PD Indefinitely Suspends Use Of License-Plate Scanners

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By IT-Lex Intern Carter McMillan (LinkedIn)

Boston’s finest announced recently that they are indefinitely suspending the use of automatic plate readers. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Boston Police Department made the decision following a report released by the Boston Globe that posited concerns about the handling of the data collected. In that report, the paper announced that it had mistakenly been given the license plate numbers of more than 68,000 vehicles. Police Spokeswoman Cheryl Fiandaca said that the license plate numbers were mistakenly included in an unredacted file given to the Globe in response to a Freedom of Information request.

The technology operates by reading the plate of every vehicle that goes by and runs it against a database of plates to see if the driver is wanted for a crime or if the vehicle is being sought for any other reason. Fiandaca said that the program has been taken off line in order to review its “effectiveness and efficiency.”

This announcement comes at a time when 20% of police departments in the US use the scanners. These departments credit the tech with increasing their recovery of stolen vehicles by 68% and increasing officer productivity by 50%.

These scanners are obviously helpful to the departments but many groups question the costs of collection. IT-Lex has written before about privacy concerns that organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union have. It is exactly this kind of accidental disclosure that concern privacy advocates.

In a time when data is being snatched hand over fist without question, it is refreshing to see a government agency step back and assess the efficacy of its practices.

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