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ACLU Says Surveillance In Vermont Should be Better Regulated

The American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont has released a new report it says documents a dramatic increase in the surveillance that Vermonters are subject to since September 11, 2001.

The ACLU says there’s too little oversight of how the information is used and it’s calling on the legislature to take steps to regulate some activities.

In a surveillance show-and-tell on the State house lawn, a dinner plate sized remote controlled drone with four whirling propellers took off and hovered overhead.

The drone has a camera mounted on it and as small and quiet as it is, it’s more visible than other methods of surveillance the ACLU says Vermonters are subjected to every day:  Like police license plate scanners and facial recognition software used by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

ACLU-Vermont Executive Director Allen Gilbert says the fact that 90 percent of Vermonters live within 100 miles of an international border increases the opportunity for agencies like the Department of Homeland Security to operate.

Gilbert says, in addition to government surveillance individuals have signed on to having themselves watched through our use of cell phones and social media. 

While acknowledging the benefits of the technology, Gilbert says Vermonters’ have lost more privacy than they think.  

“While the notion of privacy might still ring true, the reality doesn't really match that anymore.  Over the last 12 years Vermont has been transformed into a state where we’re being watched,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert says it took more than a year for the ACLU to compile its report on surveillance in Vermont.

The organization documented $100 million dollars funneled by the Department of Homeland Security to Vermont law enforcement agencies for high tech surveillance tools.

"While the notion of privacy might still ring true, the reality doesn't really match that anymore."

Because the money comes from the federal government and because some of the activities are by nature secret, Gilbert says there’s a lack of state and local oversight.

“I think the legislature is going to have to grapple with how there can be better oversight, certainly on the state level,” said Gilbert.  “It might just be reporting every time new federal money from homeland security comes in and what that money is planned to be used for.  Maybe some of those expenditures should be approved by a legislative committee or at least reviewed.”

Gilbert says the legislature should act on a drone regulation bill that was introduced last spring.  He says lawmakers should also write rules governing police access to data from facial recognition software used by the DMV.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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