Drive around to build your dossier, comrade

I don't normally read the Boston Herald, but I saw a pointer to one of its articles on Slashdot. The article is about the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety (EOPS) plans to roll out "Automatic License Plate Recognition" (ALPR) devices, and I'm a little concerned.

Here are the article's key points:

  • ALPR is installed in state police cruisers to scan license plates of passing traffic;
    EOPS has approved 27 grants totaling $500,000 for these devices;
  • Scanned license plates are compared to a list of "police alerts, warrants, traffic violations and parking tickets";
  • Plates of law-abiding citizens would scanned as a matter of course;
  • Plate numbers would be fed into and stored in a central location, presumably accompanied by date, time, and place scanned;
  • and EOPS wants to share scanner information with local, state and federal authorities.

While I've got no objection to looking for vehicles on a specific list, the act of storing scans for later use is effectively compiling dossiers on the whereabouts of law-abiding citizens whom the US Constitution says ought to be presumed innocent. We're not supposed to be doing that in this country, and I am deeply disappointed to see my state take this step.