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Mass. Says It Does Not Provide RMV System Access To Federal Authorities

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation and Registry of Motor Vehicles office in Downtown Boston (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation and Registry of Motor Vehicles office in Downtown Boston (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Following reports that federal investigators are using some states' driver's license databases for searching for possible facial recognition matches, the Baker administration says federal authorities do not have access to Massachusetts' license system.

"The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles cooperates with law enforcement on specific case by case queries related to criminal investigations but does not provide system access to federal authorities and is not negotiating to do so," Judi Riley, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, said in an email to WBUR.

The statement reinforces remarks Gov. Charlie Baker made Monday when he was asked about a Washington Post report that FBI and ICE agents have scanned through millions of Americans’ license photos without their knowledge or consent.

"Typically the only time the RMV responds to any sort of a request is a very particular and specific one that involves a federal inquiry. Usually it involves criminal activity. There is no blanket sharing of data with any federal agency associated with law enforcement," Baker told reporters following his weekly meeting with legislative leaders.

Still, the Post report and others have some elected officials wondering if legislative protections should be considered.

"I do think a set of reasonable protections around information that is collected using that technology is appropriate," said state Senate Republican leader Bruce Tarr. "I do believe that facial recognition is an important tool for public safety and homeland security. That being said, I think there should be a protocol because the information is very sensitive and it could have the potential for abuse."

Baker recognized that there are concerns about the sharing of data.

"I think obviously from our point of view privacy is a really big concern on all of these issues," the governor said Monday. "I think the thing we need to do is make sure that we're doing everything we can to protect people's privacy and giving them options to opt out if they choose to."

Baker acknowledged this will continue to be a tough issue as federal, state and local governments rely more and more on digital platforms for managing personal information.

Somerville recently became the first community on the East Coast to ban government use of face surveillance technology.

The questions about the Massachusetts' RMV's data-sharing with federal investigators come as the agency has been under fire for mishandling driving violation notice from other states.

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Steve Brown Twitter Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.

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