Boston police stop using license plate scanners over privacy concerns

fbi officials restled with license plate scanner privacy issues

Detailed recently by the Boston Globe, the Boston police department is suspending the use of automated license plate readers. These devices automatically check for violations such as outstanding warrants, stolen plates, lack of insurance or less severe violations like unpaid parking tickets. Starting during early 2013, fourteen of the advanced devices were put into rotation after a successful test phase of one of the scanners. Assuming all the devices were utilized out in the field on a regular basis, just fourteen of the scanners were capable of scanning up to four million automobiles per year.

Data collected by the scanners includes the license plate identification number, the date and time of the scan as well as the GPS coordinates of the scanned car. Hypothetically, this data could be used to track the movement of Boston residents as they travel around the city. In addition, it could be used to establish specific travel patterns of a vehicle in order to identify an anomalous deviation that could be related to participation in a crime. 

The exact specifics of the type of data collected by police was uncovered by a public-records investigation organization known as MuckRock, operating on behalf of the Boston Globe. During January 2013, the investigators requested a sampling of the scan data from police. While initially reluctant, the police department eventually relented during April 2013 with a promise to deliver the data, but with plate information redacted to protect the privacy of Boston citizens.

Boston_Police_cruiser

When the information was released to MuckRock during July 2013, the investigators realized that the Boston police department released raw, unredacted data that included GPS locations and plate identification numbers for more than 40,000 vehicles driving around Boston. It took the Boston police department several months to officially acknowledge the mistake and the Boston Globe agreed not to publish any portion of the data.

This incident caused Boston police Commissioner William Evans to suspend the license plate scanner program this week. According to a statement released by Boston police spokeswoman Cheryl Fiandaca, she said “We just took [the scanner program] off-line while the commissioner reviews it.” The commissioner “wants to review it so he knows that it’s being used effectively and that it doesn’t invade anyone’s privacy.”

Based off the data, the Boston Globe also raised questions about the effectiveness of the license plate scanners. For example, a Harley Davidson motorcycle that had been reported stolen triggered the license plate scanners nearly 60 times during a five month period, usually around the same time each day. According to Boston police chief technical officer John Daley, the scanners issue an email alert to the stolen car department of the Boston police, but it seems unlikely that these alerts are followed up on quickly based on the motorcycle’s travel patterns.

Possible due to this privacy leak, Boston lawmakers are attempting to regulate the length of time that records of scanned cars are kept by the police department. While the Boston police promised to delete records after a period of three months, lawmakers want to reduce that time period to 48 hours unless a court order is involved.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: 1-handed drone control, a pot that stirs itself

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in November, from 'The Witch’ to ‘Dracula’

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Photography

Get your Sagan on with 60 awe-inspiring photos of the final frontier

Few things instill a sense of wonder quite like the final frontier. The best space photos show off the beauty of Earth, our solar system, and the far corners of the universe. Here are our current favorites.
Cars

Tesla raises prices and simplifies options on Model S and Model X

Tesla is making changes to its offerings of the Model S and Model X. The lower-range 75D models will increase in price, while the higher-range 100D models will decrease in price.
Cars

Tesla brings track mode to Model 3 Performance

The new Track Mode introduced for the Tesla 3 Performance model adds stability to the drive while you're behind the wheel and is specifically designed for driving on closed track courses.
Cars

Jaguar’s rally-ready F-Type roadster is happiest off the pavement

Jaguar is celebrating the XK120's 70th birthday by turning the F-Type roadster into a rally warrior. Built to FIA specifications, the model receives suspension and braking upgrades plus a full roll cage to protect the occupants.
Mobile

Lyft’s new rewards program promises ride discounts and comfier cars

If you're always hopping in and out of a Lyft car, then you'll be pleased to hear that the ridesharing service is about to launch a rewards program. Perks include discounts on future trips and upgrades to comfier cars.
Cars

Study suggests autonomous cars could become red-light districts on wheels

Fully autonomous cars can change the way we commute, but they can also have a far-reaching impact on the tourism industry. Two researchers published a study that outlines how self-driving technology could create a new dimension in tourism.
Cars

VW will use Siri as the designated driver for its connected car party

Volkswagen of America added Apple's Siri to help drivers control and interact with their cars. Owners can customize voice commands to tell Siri to change access settings such as interior climate, vehicle lock status, and fuel checks.
Cars

Meet the born-again Ford Bronco that will soothe your ’90s nostalgia

Ford has confirmed it will bring the Bronco back to American showrooms in a few short years. While it's still very much a work in progress, this is what we expect from the Blue Oval's born-again off-roader.
Cars

Waymo will launch its commercial autonomous ridesharing service in December

Waymo will launch a commercial ridesharing service using self-driving cars in December, according to a new report. As previously discussed by Waymo, the service will operate in specific areas around Phoenix, Arizona.
Cars

Quick! Someone petition Ferrari to make this luscious tribute to the F40

Ferrari looks toward the future as it designs hypercars like the LaFerrari. Designer Samir Sadikhov turned his eye toward the past to create a modern interpretation of the 1987 F40 without venturing into full retro territory.