Security Grifting At Work: Million-Dollar ALPR System In Vermont Solves Four (4) Crimes in 2013

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Vermont Public Radio does the spadework to find out whether automated license plate surveillance systems offer a reasonable return on investment:

“…Even with the millions of scans, the system has not led to many arrests or breakthroughs in major criminal investigations. […] They were helpful in solving fewer than five crimes in 2013. [Officer] Cram [of Winooski PD] says the federally-funded ALPR is a valuable tool, even though he doesn’t think the city would have put up $25,000 of its own money to buy one.

At a cost of “over $1 million” over five years, that works out at around $50,000 per crime solved. [Note: Initial calculations of $40,000 per crime solved were based on an inaccurate figure of five crimes solved.]

At a rate of $50,000 per crime, you could hire one part-time police officer, and I suspect that that part-time police officer would solve more than one crime per year. So what gives?

This is what gives, for ALPR, for surveillance cameras, and for military surplus equipment. Police departments count the cost of new surveillance equipment at zero, even when it’s not (taxpayers ultimately pay). It’s hard for police chiefs to turn down free, even if free offers only the most marginal prospect of reducing crime. But it says everything about the utility of this technology that, had the City of Winooski been asked to put up its own money, Officer Cram thought that they wouldn’t have done it. Oh – and I almost forgot to mention – as the article mentions, the entity charged with managing the data from this boondoggle is, naturally, the Vermont fusion center.

Meanwhile, only half of American roads are in good repair, and our public transportation is an international laughingstock. Americans’ median incomes are falling, and more and more of us are just a paycheck or two from disaster. We scrutinize every milligram of social spending to uncover with great fanfare a rate of fraud of $0.0073 per dollar spent, because we can’t abide any of them Cadillac-driving fur-coat-clad welfare queens. And yet somehow, funding for more surveillance, more militarization, and more war, is never-ending and never requires proper accounting or justification.

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Three Bills To Protect Privacy: We Need Calls. Now.

You pulled me over? But, why?
You pulled me over? But, why?

The powerful MA Senate Ways and Means Committee is voting on whether to approve three privacy-protecting bills. The ACLU is asking Massachusetts residents to call their legislators; do it today if you can!

The License Plate Privacy Act would limit the ability of law enforcement to track your movements around the state, by keeping an enormous database of time-stamped photos taken by automated license plate readers.

The Electronic Privacy Act would require a warrant, instead of a lowly administrative subpoena, in order for law enforcement to access your electronic files, giving them the same level of protection as paper files.

The Password Protection Act would prevent your boss or administrators at your school from snooping around your social media accounts.

The legislative session ends July 31. Now is the time to make your voices heard!

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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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.

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