The ACLU of Massachusetts, together with Ropes & Gray, filed a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), seeking information about how the agency uses and grants access to its state driver’s license database for face surveillance purposes.

MassDOT’s Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) database contains photographs of every person who has applied for a state-issued ID—a dataset that includes millions of people. Since 2006, the department has made this database available to law enforcement agencies for face surveillance purposes without legislative authorization, external oversight, or public disclosure. Government use of face surveillance technology is unregulated in Massachusetts and nationwide, which poses unprecedented risks to civil rights.

The ACLU filed two public records requests in February 2019 and April 2019 regarding MassDOT’s use of face surveillance technology. The requests seek documents pertaining to the sharing of information in the RMV database, as well as records showing the number of times the RMV has granted access to the database or performed face surveillance searches against it for external agencies. The department failed to respond to the requests—a violation of state public records law. Public transparency is the only means of understanding how this technology has affected the civil rights and civil liberties of Massachusetts residents.

In June 2019, the ACLU of Massachusetts launched “Press Pause on Face Surveillance,” a campaign to build awareness about the civil liberties concerns posed by face surveillance technology. The campaign is calling for municipalities to ban government use of face surveillance technology, and for the state legislature to pass a statewide moratorium on the government’s use of the technology. An ACLU poll shows 76 percent of Massachusetts voters do not think the government should be able to monitor and track people with face surveillance technology.



Matthew Segal, Jessie Rossman, and Jessica Lewis (ACLU of MA); Robert Skinner, Susan Zhu, and Scott Grannemann (Ropes & Gray)