Velis finds new proposed E-ZPass legislation “dangerous”

The system currently gathers information like license plates, credit card information and photographs of vehicles

WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – For Westfield-based state Rep. John Velis, his concerns with new legislation filed by Longmeadow-based state Sen. Eric Lesser isn’t about privacy, it’s about potential dangers.

Lesser proposed new legislation with the state this week that would require a warrant by law enforcement to access data that is cataloged by the Massachusetts Turnpike’s E-ZPass system that is overseen by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT). The system currently gathers information like license plates, credit card information and photographs of vehicles and Lesser submitted the legislation to make sure that remains private, which includes information on the “hot list,” a specific list of exceptions that law enforcement can currently use when attempting to track a vehicle.

And this requirement of a warrant for the “hot list” is what strikes Velis as dangerous.

“The issue with this bill—I want to be very clear here—I can appreciate and acknowledge privacy concerns to a certain point,” Velis said. “What’s problematic is the dangerousness of it—it does not provide an exception for the law enforcement ‘hot list’.”

The “hot list” currently allows law enforcement to access certain license plate and E-ZPass information in situations such as felony pursuits, Amber Alerts, kidnappings, as well as other scenarios where a person or people may be at risk.

“Right now what happens is the police can reach out to the DOT and they may have a partial plate or a description of a vehicle and the DOT will give them that information,” Velis said. “This legislation though, would require police to apply to a judge for a warrant.”

This concerns Velis because that process, he said, takes time, and in situations like Amber Alerts, time is crucial.

“A lot of time legislation is filed that is foolish, but seldom is it filed when it’s outright dangerous. This is dangerous,” Velis said.

Sen. Lesser though, does not view the legislation as threatening but rather protective in nature.

“The intent is that we have this new system and we want to protect personal data and privacy,” Lesser said. “We want safeguards and clear criteria for how [the data is] used and that there’s very clear guidelines in the law.”

He said that the bill is “non-controversial,” even citing support from Sen. Don Humason on the legislation. Lesser is a democrat, while Humason is a republican.

Bill from the Commonwealth of MA General Court

“I was a little perplexed by Rep. Velis’s objections,” Lesser said.

He added that he had not received a call from Velis about the legislation and that he is not against any reasonable exceptions for law enforcement.

Lesser said that the bill, which is currently in its nascent stage and is yet to be voted on, is open to amendments being added to it, and those can be debated and voted on when the time comes. Currently there are no exceptions built into the law that was drafted, however, which Lesser said was normal for the process of bills being created.

Velis said that his aims for this legislation is to make sure that it is not passed, or at the very least that exceptions are added to the legislation to assist law enforcement in exigent circumstances.

“I will do everything in my power to kill this bill,” he said. “If there is an opportunity to add this exception that is something I may consider, as well.”

Copyright 2017 The Westfield News