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ACLU releases border surveillance report - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

ACLU releases border surveillance report

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

Only about the size of a soccer ball, a small quad-rotor drone with its onboard camera gives a whole new meaning to a bird's-eye view. This first-ever Statehouse flyover was put on by the Vermont American Civil Liberties Union. It was just a demonstration. But it's surveillance technology like this that privacy advocates say should have everyone concerned.

"If you're carrying a cellphone, you're being tracked. If you're driving a car, 'ALPR's' 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 of the Vermont ACLU.

In a new report, "Surveillance on the Northern Border," the Vermont ACLU details some of the high-tech tools that are currently being used. From cellphone tracking, license plate readers and facial recognition software used by the DMV to the use of military-style drones along the border, the report says there are a host of privacy concerns that threaten to turn Vermont into a total surveillance society.

"We talk in detail about Automated License Plate Readers, facial recognition software, cellphone tracking and also drones. We also talk about fusion centers and the NSA. These tools and these facilities may not necessarily have been developed to build a surveillance society, but that's how they can be used," Gilbert said.

Gilbert says the feds provided the money for individual police agencies for license plate readers, essentially bypassing the scrutiny that comes with local and state budgetary oversight.

"We believe we have a good program," Vt. Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn said.

State law enforcement officials say facial recognition at the DMV is used to prevent fraudulent applications, information gathered by license plate readers is secured and there are no drones used by police in Vermont. And there are no plans to do so.

"Our main goal is to protect privacy rights of people and to keep people safe," Flynn said. "We are not butting heads with the ACLU on this. We share their concerns. We share their goals. We are looking for a better way to keep Vermont safe."

Flynn says the use of drones must first be discussed by Vermonters and lawmakers before police put them to use. The ACLU would also like to see legislative action on rules governing police access to the DMV's new facial recognition data, as well as passage of electronic privacy legislation.

The ACLU is hosting a conference later next month on surveillance issues. Click here for more on that and to read the ACLU's report.

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