Unchecked Surveillance Tech Puts Privacy at Risk

Nebraskans have a right to privacy and in a world where tracking our activities is easier than ever, communities should be cautious about any plans to expand government use of surveillance technology. When they do move forward on those efforts, you can count on the ACLU of Nebraska to be a watchdog. 

Case in point: many Lancaster County residents likely did not know that the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners was considering a new agreement with a surveillance company. 

The proposed agreement was between the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office and a company called Vigilant Solutions, which sells license plate reader systems. These camera systems can be placed at a stationary location or on law enforcement cruisers and can scan and process hundreds of license plates in a matter of minutes. Photographs include information beyond just the plate number, such as the time, date and the GPS location associated with each picture. 

In an initial agreement between Lancaster County and Vigilant, Vigilant would have had ownership of the photos, meaning they could potentially sell or otherwise publicize license plate information collected about Nebraskans. On top of this threat to privacy, the proposed agreement included the possibility for facial recognition technology to be utilized by Vigilant Solutions. 

Imagine data about your drive home being sold to data brokers or other interested parties without your knowledge or consent. It’s chilling. 

This is not only a serious privacy concern for Nebraskans, but unequivocally threatening to the rights of Nebraskans of color. In 2019, the federal government found that facial recognition technology was riddled with technological bias that resulted in extremely high rates of facial recognition errors for people of color, with the highest rate of error among Black women. 

The threat to privacy and other personal rights easily outweighs any potential convenience law enforcement agencies might find in their use. 

That’s why we got in touch with commissioners and alerted them to these dangers.   

The result of our voiced concern:  

  • A new contract with no use of facial recognition software. 
  • Clearly outlined requirements that better protect the data and privacy of Nebraskans. 

The new agreement better protects our privacy and better aligns with state law. In 2018, the Nebraska Legislature passed LB 93, a bill limiting the use of surveillance technology and data collection that would impede on the rights of Nebraskans. The bill was introduced by Senator Matt Hansen and the ACLU of Nebraska was proud to help support the bill through its passage into law.  

Privacy often impacts other basic rights, including free speech, due process and freedom of association – the right to join groups and speak out as part of a group. That’s why the privacy of Nebraskans must remain a priority for elected officials. The ACLU of Nebraska is in the business of protecting civil rights and civil liberties and when the violation of those rights steps into the world of data privacy and mass surveillance, we will always speak up. 

We have a right to privacy and we’ll always defend it.