After accidentally releasing confidential records of more than 68,000 vehicle license plates that had set off alarms on automated license plate readers, the Boston Police Department has indefinitely suspended the use of the high-tech scanners. The decision comes after the accidental release placed doubt about whether the police could "reliably protect the sensitive data" captured by the cameras, reports The Boston Globe.
License plate readers (LPR) are used by thousands of law enforcement agencies nationwide. The device scans vehicles license plates and typically records the date, time, and GPS location of the plate. It is a system that works to locate "hot" cars, as well as record all others movements, according to Ars Technica.
The readers are used as a clear method to retrieve stolen vehicles or locate those with other infractions, reports The Boston Globe. A reported stolen motorcycle was caught by an LPR 59 times between Oct. 19, 2012 and March 13, 2013, but there is no indication in the reports that the motorcycle was ever apprehended or even stopped by police, even though it passed the same LPR about the same time each evening.
This calls into question what the police were doing with the collected data if it was not being used to identify stolen vehicles.
Kade Crockford, the director of the Technology for Liberty Initiative at the ACLU Massachusetts, told The Boston Globe, "You can't help but wonder whether the real purpose is simply to collect droves of data about where innocent people are driving, in case it might be useful for investigations later."