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Massachusetts ATM Safety Bill Faces Banking Industry Opposition

Monday, April 21, 2014

 

The local ATM and banking industry is pushing back on an oft-submitted bill by Massachusetts State Senator Brian A. Joyce that would require banks to install specific security measures at their automated teller machine facilities.

Joyce’s bill is a response to acts of violent crime at ATMs, such as the murder of 24-year-old Amy Lord in Boston last summer. Authorities believe Lord was abducted and forced to withdraw money from five ATMs before Edwin Alemany allegedly killed her. Joyce has spent the last 15 years proposing legislation to provide for public safeguards and protections for users of automated teller machines, defined in the bill as: “the area comprised of one or more automated teller machines, and any adjacent space which is made available to banking customers after regular banking hours.”

The bill would require these facilities to have adequate lighting, functional card-activated doors, transparent glass, interior mirrors, and a panic button or 911 phone to alert police.

Good – but misguided – intentions

Todd McEwan, President of New England ATM, LLC, said Massachusetts currently regulates ATMs harder than any other State in the US.

“I am aware of the proposed law and I understand the intention of it, although I feel it's misguided. If the law passes in Massachusetts, there will be many unintended consequences for citizens and local police,” McEwan said.

Joyce’s bill requires that banks which provide outside and enclosed ATMs must provide an emergency telephone or “panic button” with access to a 911 emergency number. McEwan said this requirement could actually overwhelm law enforcement and possibly cost lives.

“I would estimate there is somewhere around 25,000 ATMs in Massachusetts. If only two percent of these ATMs had a ‘prank’ activation or accidental activation, each day … we are looking at 500 extra calls to police each day. This would overwhelm municipalities and cost possible lives. No other industry that I know of requires an emergency button or phone to be placed.”

In the past, Joyce has brought up the idea of using “reverse pin number” technology to alert police in an emergency.

“Contrary to Internet folklore, this technology does not exist. ATMs cannot decipher an encrypted PIN. It is forwarded through the branded networks and de-encrypted at the issuing card's authorizer. To figure out if a PIN is reversed or not, would depend on authorizing systems all over the world. To achieve this technology would be cost prohibitive and Massachusetts could not enforce out of state and out of Country authorizers,” McEwan said.

Less ATMs, more cost

The ATM industry believes the bill would likely reduce the number of ATMs in Massachusetts, drive up ATM surcharges, and cost the state and local towns a prohibitive amount of money. The American Bankers Association is also fighting the bill. Bruce E. Spitzer, the director of communications at the Massachusetts Bankers Association, has said the main reason banks oppose the legislation is the same as McEwan’s: he believes it won’t be effective. Spitzer takes further issue with the bill because it only applies to ATMs in banks, not convenience stores, bars or restaurants.

From the bill: “The provisions of this section shall not apply to any unenclosed automated teller machine located in any building, structure, or space whose primary purpose or function is unrelated to banking activities, including but not limited to supermarkets, airports, and school buildings, provided that such automated teller machine shall be available for use only during the regular hours of operation of the building, structure or space in which such machine is located.”

New England ATM only deploys smaller retail ATM, like the ones you find in convenience stores, bars and restaurants.

“Unfortunately, the private retail ATM industry is made up of small independent businesses,” McEwan said.

“We have little industry organization in Massachusetts.”

 

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