Full width home advertisement

Post Page Advertisement [Top]

Data from automatic license plate readers flawed

Data from automatic license plate readers flawed

 

Automatic license plate readers that take photos of license plates and record date and time data of vehicles crossing the Sagamore and Bourne bridges - and other sites across the state - will not be used for the time being because of a data recording glitch.

Every time a driver passes over the Bourne and Sagamore bridges, a set of cameras captures their vehicle’s license plate number, the day and time and sends it off to a database in Chelsea that's accessible to law enforcement. 

The information from the automatic license plate readers at the bridges and across the state has been used to bust suspected criminals and track their movements — a controversial practice that has drawn criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union. But now, according to a memorandum released Wednesday, state police have stopped using the system after a glitch was found going back more than five years. 

In the memo to criminal justice agencies and defense attorneys, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security wrote that dates and times recorded by the automatic license plate reader system between May 2015 and Nov. 12, 2020, can’t be relied upon without further supporting information. 

State police found that during that time frame dates and times from the cameras did not line up with the dates and times the photographs were uploaded to the server that hosts the database. Police say the issues are limited to the date and time recorded by the cameras and not to the license plate data itself.

The time gaps were caused when a camera lost power. When power was restored to a camera, it would begin taking pictures again but before it reconnected with the host server. This caused the camera to not update its date and time settings, according to police and reader vendor Neology. Once the camera connected with the server, the dates and times were then synchronized. 

Exactly how widespread the issue is, the number of outages and how many legal cases it may have affected is not spelled out in the memo. 

While the practice of using the readers has been halted, the previously acquired data will be preserved and Neology and police are working to address the issue. Cruiser mounted license plate readers were not affected by the issue. 

“The Department will continue to assist in verifying date and times stamps using additional retained data while working with the vendor on potential solutions,” state police spokesman David Procopio wrote in an email. 

It will be up to prosecutors and defense attorneys to determine or litigate what prior evidence in cases from the readers will be used in court, he wrote. 

Paul Bogosian will be one of those attorneys. He represents Jason McCarthy, a New Bedford man who was arrested by Barnstable police in 2017 on drug trafficking charges based on plate reader data from the bridges. 

Bogosian previously argued that police needed to get a warrant to obtain the data, as well as put McCarthy on a “hot list” that was used to ping officers when McCarthy crossed the bridges. 

A Barnstable Superior Court judge ruled the evidence would be allowed. The decision was later backed up earlier this year by the Supreme Judicial Court, which determined that the cameras, with limited use, didn’t constitute a violation of privacy.  

The memo released Wednesday raised questions about the reliability of the license plate readers, Bogosian said. 

“It really struck at the heart of the issues in respect to Mr. McCarthy,” he said Wednesday night.

He also wondered how often the cameras lost power, why it took so long to notice issues with the data and why it is just now being brought up. Bogosian had quizzed a state police employee on the stand about the reliability of these readers and this type of issue never came up, he said.

“I don’t know how long the Massachusetts State Police have been sitting on this,” he said. 

Bogosian said the situation was similar to when there were problems with breathalyzer tests in recent years, resulting in thousands of operating under the influence cases to be dropped.

Prosecutors in McCarthy’s case, which is pending in Barnstable Superior Court, showed the grand jury the times and specific dates that police say his client drove over the bridges and now those times and dates could be wrong.

“It’s mind-scratching,” Bogosian said. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Bottom Ad [Post Page]