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ACLU Sues MassDOT For Details On Its Driver's License Database And Face Surveillance Uses

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)

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack has a new headache: a lawsuit seeking information about how the Massachusetts Department of Transportation uses and shares its state driver’s license database for face surveillance purposes.

The ACLU of Massachusetts announced the Superior Court lawsuit Wednesday, saying it's working with Ropes & Gray.

"When you go to get a driver's license, no one tells you that you're also entering your face into a surveillance dragnet," said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. "People expect to be able to go about our lives without every move being tracked by the government. But face surveillance technology gives the government unprecedented power to track who we are, where we go, what we do, and who we know. Massachusetts must ensure face surveillance technology doesn’t get out ahead of our basic rights."

According to the ACLU, MassDOT makes its Registry of Motor Vehicles database available to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies for face surveillance purposes and since 2006 "has made this database available for face recognition searches without any regulations."

A MassDOT spokeswoman told WBUR in an emailed statement Tuesday that the RMV  "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."

MassDOT has not responded to two ACLU public records requests concerning its use of the technology, the ACLU said.

"We are at a critical juncture where the development of technology is outpacing government regulation of it," Robert Skinner of Ropes & Gray said in a statement. "State agencies in Massachusetts have been left to self-regulate their use of face surveillance, but citizens have a right to know how this technology is used and will be used in the future."

With additional reporting from WBUR's Steve Brown

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