State officials who have sparked civil libertarians’ Big Brother fears with plans for a police database tracking Bay State drivers said yesterday they are concerned about how the mass of information from high-tech license plate scanners could be abused in divorce cases and civil lawsuits.
“We are trying to make sure we get it right,” said Terrel Harris, spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety, which is has approved $500,000 in grants to buy scanners for 27 police departments.
“We are aware of the privacy issues. We are aware that a lot of people are concerned. We don’t want the information misused. That’s the simplest way to say it,” Harris said.
The scanners can capture the images of thousands of license plates per hour for comparison against lists of stolen cars, warrants, moving violations and parking tickets. The state wants to make scanner information accessible to the state’s local and federal authorities.
While privacy activists are concerned about giving the police the ability to actively monitor law-abiding citizens, Northboro police chief Mark K. Leahy, the president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police, said, “We don’t want to (be) part of the divorces and who knows what else. It clearly has its benefits, just like a lot of the security cameras, but clearly they are causing folks a lot of angst. We need to strike a common ground.”
Public Safety Committee chairman Sen. James Timilty said he backs the database plan: “I understand there’s some concerns, but we need to err on the side of caution. We need to protect ourselves from threats both foreign and domestic.”