MONTPELIER, Vt. – The proliferation of technology that makes it easier to track the lives of ordinary residents prompted the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday to call on the Legislature to ensure state and local law enforcement agencies don’t misuse information that may be available.
To prove how easy it is becoming for law enforcement to monitor the lives of law-abiding residents, the ACLU demonstrated a small, remote control drone that collected video while flying in the skies above the Statehouse in Montpelier.
“If you carry a cellphone, you are being tracked. If you’re driving a car, (automatic license plate readers) are picking up where you’re going. You’ve seen what a drone can do. We’re going to see hundreds of these things flying overhead in a couple of years,” said Allen Gilbert, executive director of the ACLU’s Vermont chapter.
In addition to drones and the electronic bread crumb trail left by most people today, Gilbert said Vermonters are more prone to be watched by the government than people in other parts of the country because of the state’s proximity to Canada. Within 100 miles of the border, Department of Homeland Security agencies have broad powers to stop motorists.
Gilbert said his organization would ask the Legislature to pass a bill that would regulate the use of aerial drones. The group wants the state to pass a law or establish rules governing police access to “digital face prints,” created by facial recognition software used by the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The agency’s website says its facial recognition software is designed to protect against identity fraud and to prevent people from getting driver’s licenses in multiple states. It says law enforcement agencies “may submit images of suspects in crimes for analysis by DMV investigators.”
The ACLU wants Vermont to pass a law that would prohibit employers from requiring workers to provide access to social media accounts as a job requirement.
It also is calling for passage of a Vermont electronic privacy act, which would require law enforcement agencies to get warrants before obtaining email, phone and Internet records, location tracking data and digital face prints.
“It’s when you get into the areas of invasion of privacy, harassment, even stalking where things are going to get very interesting,” Gilbert said. “None of this is going to be easy.”
State Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday he was aware of the ACLU’s push. He didn’t respond to their specific requests.
“I think you have to look at the technology and how it’s going to be used in a manner that’s fair to everybody,” he said. “The challenge for the Legislature is to have the technology available to prevent crime and deal with criminal activity and at the same time prevent abuses of the system.”