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Privatizing Public Records October 7, 2005

Posted by theexpert in Business, Technology.
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Bruce Schneier wrote a piece on automated license plate scanners, which are being used by the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) to identify vehicles with too many unpaid parking tickets. Near the end of the article is the following paragraph:

Richard M. Smith, who took this photo, made a public request to the BTD last summer for the database of scanned license plate numbers that is being collected by this vehicle. The BTD told him at the time that the database is not a public record, because the database is owned by AutoVu, the Canadian company that makes the license plate scanner software used in the vehicle. This software is being “loaned” to the City of Boston as part of a “beta” test program.

So if a government wants to keep a set of records a secret from the public, all it has to do is put the records into a database that is owned by a private firm and (presumably) make sure to include a contractual stipulation that says the government has largely unrestricted rights to the data? I hope I’m misunderstanding something because that setup would be ripe for abuse.

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