ACLU sues MassDOT over surveillance data

The hits won’t stop for the state’s Department of Transportation. The issue this time? The use of the state’s driver’s license database for surveillance by federal agencies.

The ACLU of Massachusetts filed a Superior Court lawsuit against MassDOT Wednesday, alleging the Registry of Motor Vehicles was sharing its database of ID photographs with agencies such as the FBI and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. The ACLU says such information sharing is unconstitutional, a violation of privacy rights under the First and Fourth Amendments.

The suit was filed after two public records requests seeking information on how the technology is being used were ignored by MassDOT.

MassDOT told WBUR that the RMV cooperates with law enforcement on specific case-by-case queries related to criminal investigations, but doesn’t just let federal authorities gain automatic access to the system. The ACLU insists the RMV database has been available to most law enforcement agencies for face surveillance since 2006 without regulation. The group says it filed its public records requests with MassDOT to verify how the database is being used.

State Sen. Cynthia Creem of Newton and Rep. David Rogers of Cambridge have filed legislation that would place a temporary hold on the use of facial recognition while regulations on the issue are established by lawmakers.

The preamble to the bill states that the Massachusetts General Court finds that face recognition technology has a history of being far less accurate in identifying the faces of women, young people, and dark-skinned people, and that such inaccuracies lead to harmful “false positive” identifications. The preamble goes on to state that the “use of face recognition poses unique and significant civil rights and civil liberties threats to the residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Back in April, Brown University student Amara Majeed was incorrectly identified as one of the Easter bombing terrorists by Sri Lankan police due to an error with the tech. Majeed woke one morning to find a flood of xenophobic slurs, threats, and accusations of terrorism flooding her inbox and Facebook.

“That was because of an error in a facial recognition system,” ACLU’s Kade Crockford told WGBH, “We really have no guarantees that those types of abuses won’t happen here.”

Last year, in a test run by the ACLU with Amazon’ facial recognition software, 28 lawmakers were misidentified as crime suspects, including, ironically, Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a prominent civil rights leader.





Gov. Charlie Baker proposes new ride-hailing regulations to protect riders and to shed more light on the congestion caused by Uber and Lyft. His proposal would not increase the per-ride fee the apps pay. (CommonWealth)

Baker’s relationship with pharmaceutical companies is strained by the Beacon Hill debate over pricing. “The industry does not have a good relationship with him now,” says MassBio chief Robert Coughlin. (Boston Globe) Baker has plenty of support, however, both in the Senate and among advocates like Paul Hattis of Tufts University Medical School and Amy Rosenthal of Health Care for All. (CommonWealth)

Former state transportation secretary Rich Davey proposes a framework for a revenue package — focus on the policy goal, fund outcomes, innovate (an automated shuttle bus on the Mattapan Line?), and reform (pension terms are a good place to start). (Boston Globe)

House leaders parlay on a transportation package that they expect to vote on this year. The leaders promise a comprehensive package of measures. (State House News)

Marc Breslow and Jonah Kurman-Faber of Climate XChange say their analysis of a carbon pricing bill filed by Rep. Jennifer Benson indicates it’s good public policy. Breslow and Kurman-Faber dismiss an alternative analysis by conservative groups. (CommonWealth)

At a legislative hearing on a proposal to appoint a journalism commission, journalists describe a life of long hours and low pay. (CommonWealth)

Former state senator Richard Moore pays $90,000 to settle campaign finance violations. (MassLive)


Gloucester is considering capping the number of shops that sell tobacco products and smoking paraphernalia. (Gloucester Times)

West Bridgewater Police Chief Vic Flaherty is asking residents to complete an online community survey to assess the police department in an effort to improve how law enforcement interacts with locals. (Brockton Enterprise)


Nationwide raids by US Customs and Immigration Enforcement to arrest thousands of members of undocumented families have been scheduled to begin Sunday, according to two current and one former homeland security officials. (New York Times) 

Four House women, including Rep. Ayanna Pressley, struggle as Speaker Nancy Pelosi isolates them. (Washington Post)

Globe columnist Joan Vennochi examines US Rep. Joseph Kennedy III’s shift to the left and embrace of impeachment.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker has introduced a bill that would ban the US Census Bureau from including citizenship information among the data the bureau is required to provide to redistricting officials. (WGBH) 


Election Day could become a holiday for city workers in Boston, under a proposal from City Councilor Matt O’Malley aimed at increasing voter turnout. (Boston Herald)


The Fall River City Council is considering how many recreational marijuana licenses are enough after the Committee on Ordinances and Legislation voted Monday to recommend 11. (Herald News) 

One year into the US trade war with China, US lobster sales to China are down, and coastal communities — including Gloucester — are feeling the strain. (WGBH) 


New Boston Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius says she is open to replacing the entrance test for exam schools, primarily for financial reasons. (Boston Globe)

The Boston Teachers Union has embarked on a video ad campaign calling attention to what they contend are “unstable learning environments” at City on a Hill Charter Schools, including one that operates in New Bedford. (Standard Times) 

Harvard University has placed economist Roland Fryer on administrative leave for two years in response to findings that he created a hostile work environment, especially for women. (WBUR) 

As long as the town of Yarmouth continues with a lawsuit that has threatened $44.3 million in funding for a new middle school, the Dennis Finance Committee will not support efforts to increase its town’s share of the regional school district budget. (Cape Cod Times) 


Despite a desperate need for managerial talent, the MBTA has moved very cautiously in taking advantage of an offer from business groups to provide funding for recruitment and training and loaned executives. (CommonWealth)


Unsettling news for Vineyard Wind, as federal regulators, without explanation, inform the company that they won’t make a key environmental decision by Friday as had been expected. (CommonWealth)

Problems with low water pressure have lead state environmental officials to issue “boil water” orders to residents in Randolph and Holbrook. More chlorine is being added to the water, and a temporary hookup has been made to the Braintree water system to boost water pressure. (Patriot Ledger) 


Meals tax revenues rose sharply in Northampton and Easthampton after pot stores opened in those communities. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)


Under new visitation rules, the number of people visiting inmates at Massachusetts correctional institutions fell 23 percent in 2018. (Boston Globe)


The once-independent Worcester Magazine is officially rolled into the Telegram & Gazette as its new arts section. “Yeah, we know it’s a little weird. Just go with it,” says content editor Victor Infante.