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License-Plate-Tracking Cameras at Cape Cod Bridges? Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court To Decide

July 11, 2019

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court plans to decide whether the presence of cameras tracking license plates of every vehicle that goes over one of the two bridges to Cape Cod is legal.

State Police use the cameras to provide an alert every time a license plate on a Hit List goes over the Bourne Bridge or Sagamore Bridge over the Cape Cod Canal. That happened February 22, when a car driven by Jason McCarthy of New Bedford triggered an alert, which led to his arrest on drug trafficking charges.

McCarthy challenged the legality of the cameras. A Barnstable Superior Court judge found that the issue is novel, but he decided that the cameras are legal because they don’t track license plates all over the state but rather just at the two bridges. McCarthy has appealed the decision.

On June 14, the Supreme Judicial Court announced it is soliciting friend-of-the-court legal briefs to help justices determine “Whether either a search warrant or a court order is required before obtaining automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) data collected from fixed points for a particular vehicle.”

At issue are two federal statutes:  the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Stored Communications Act. The state’s highest court may also decide that constitutional issues apply.

No friend-of-the-court briefs have yet been files, according to the high court’s docket. But the call for briefs has drawn interest from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services, according to the Cape Cod Times.

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