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"Mobile Plate Hunter" Cameras Raise Questions

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the mission-creep-meets-big-brother dept.

Privacy 580

The Washington Post has a story on "Minority Report"-style license-plate scanners that mount on police cars. They are the size of softballs, cost $25K, and can scan and run thousands of plates a day through the local Motor Vehicle Administration database. The easy mission creep these devices encourage is summarized in the article: "Initially purchased to find stolen cars, a handful of so-called tag readers are in use across the Washington region to catch not just car thieves, but also drivers who neglected or failed their emissions inspections or let their insurance policies lapse. The District and Prince George's County use them to enforce parking rules... 'I just think it makes us a lot more effective and a lot more efficient in how our time is being used,' [a senior detective] said." The article doesn't mention what happens to the data on legal plates. Suppose the DHS decides it wants a permanent archive of who was where, when?

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It's misnamed (5, Funny)

PeeAitchPee (712652) | more than 6 years ago | (#24451933)

How about the "Mobile Revenue Generator"?

Re:It's misnamed (1)

pxlmusic (1147117) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452011)

I came to say this as well.

Good way to maintain the status quo.

Re:It's misnamed (1)

mikek2 (562884) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452041)

x3

Re:It's misnamed (1)

Hes Nikke (237581) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452061)

Me Too

/AOL

Re:It's misnamed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24452079)

So... if my emissions are past due I'll just remember to put a fake "Tag applied for" paper on my car...

Re:It's misnamed (1)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452107)

"So... if my emissions are past due I'll just remember to put a fake "Tag applied for" paper on my car..."

Ahh.....it is SO nice to live in states where they don't do that emissions sniff test or anything. I can mod my car as I wish.

That being said...I think this shows now more than ever that we need some kind of functioning method that will somehow mask the number from cameras and these type scanners, yet leave the plates readable by human eyes. A tough thing indeed...but, there has to be something that would screw with the non-organic readers. Too bad there isn't some kind of auto-sensing method to find cameras and the like and fire a laser or something back at them, blinding the optical receptors on the machines.

Re:It's misnamed (2, Interesting)

sssssss27 (1117705) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452129)

Couldn't you just put some sort of LCD cover over it and then capitalize on the fact that cameras have different refresh rates than human eyes? Kind of how you can see the scan lines on a CRT with a camera but you can't with the naked eye.

Re:It's misnamed (3, Insightful)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452163)

Well blocking street cameras would be easy. Just put a film over the plate that blocks visibility from above but not from a straight on view (like those screens people put on their computer monitors that block viewing it from the sides). However, having these things on an actual police car is more sinister. However, assuming that the system looks for the plate in a specific location on a car, you could always take it off and put it in your back window or something to throw it off...

Re:It's misnamed (4, Informative)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452227)

"Just put a film over the plate that blocks visibility from above but not from a straight on view..."

Well, there are products out there that profess to do that, but, on Mythbusters...they showed that they didn't work...

:(

Re:It's misnamed (2, Informative)

xaxa (988988) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452349)

You should obviously look to the UK for this kind of product:
http://www.ukspeedtraps.co.uk/argtec.htm [ukspeedtraps.co.uk]

Also films, sprays, etc:
http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=number+plate+speed+camera [google.co.uk]

But it seems like a lot of effort to save a few seconds getting to work in the morning :-S

Re:It's misnamed (5, Interesting)

couchslug (175151) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452095)

Fine with me, since I keep insurance and don't want uninsured drivers (who cannot compensate me for any damage they do) on the roads.

Re:It's misnamed (2, Informative)

kunwon1 (795332) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452177)

Just because they don't have insurance doesn't mean they can't compensate you. How many times a day does correlation v causation have to be covered on slashdot?

Re:It's misnamed (4, Insightful)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452213)

Ok, your pedantic point is correct and noted.
Now, over in the common sense corner, how many people do you know with enough liquidity to cover more than a minor fender-bender who lack proper insurance (or a bond, as allowed in some states).
I'm guessing the answer is a small-ish number.

Been Discussed Before (1)

gbulmash (688770) | more than 6 years ago | (#24451943)

Almost a year to the day ago, Slashdot ran a story on license plate scanning [slashdot.org] .

Re:Been Discussed Before (0, Redundant)

digid (259751) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452123)

Thank you pointing this o

Re:Been Discussed Before (1)

digid (259751) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452131)

Thank you pointing this out. You are a gentleman and a scholar.

huh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24451963)

> The article doesn't mention what happens to the data on legal plates. Suppose the DHS decides it wants a permanent archive of who was where, when?

Sounds scary!
But is it cool if I do it?

The UK says (2, Informative)

sa1lnr (669048) | more than 6 years ago | (#24451965)

Welcome to the party. We've been here a while and are sure you will get into the swing of it. ;)

Re:The UK says (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24452047)

Here is a video of the Mobile Plate Hunters [youtube.com]

Poor analysis (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24451973)

The real mission creep isn't these cameras. It is the license plates themselves. They were initially designed only as proof that an owner of the vehicle paid the registration licensing fee, not as a mobile vehicle identification number. It is only logical that once the license plates were no longer used for strictly licensing purposes that things like this would occur.

License plates should never have been designed. Their only purpose was to be a loophole for "unreasonable searches" since they are in public view. There is about as much justification to putting a license plate on a car as there is to putting one on your house to verify that you have paid your property taxes.

Re:Poor analysis (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24452027)

putting one on your house to verify that you have paid your property taxes

Don't give them ideas.

Re:Poor analysis (5, Insightful)

Pennidren (1211474) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452045)

You ever run someone down with your house?

Re:Poor analysis (4, Funny)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452235)

Steven Wright mentioned accidentally putting his car key in the door to his apartment.
Turned the key.
Whole building started up.
So he drove it around for a while.
Cop pulled him over, asked "Where do you live?"
He said "Right here".

Re:Poor analysis (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24452249)

I live in a van down by the river, you insensitive clod! Of course I've run people down with my house. Why do you think I live by the river?

There is a workaround though. (1)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452071)

It's a legal "grey area" known as "tag applied for".

Want to be anonymous going someplace for the day? just get a random piece of cardboard, write a date about 3 weeks from now, and replace your plate with it.

Re:There is a workaround though. (1)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452261)

So it's not a major feat to
a) alter the law to disallow this, or
b) mix in some RFID gadget at application time
so that they can bust you for a "false official statement" (since outlawing simple lying would put too many politicians in jeopardy).

Re:There is a workaround though. (4, Informative)

Koby77 (992785) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452289)

It's a legal "grey area" known as "tag applied for".

Want to be anonymous going someplace for the day? just get a random piece of cardboard, write a date about 3 weeks from now, and replace your plate with it.

My friend tried this a few years back when his temporary tag got destroyed by a really bad rainstorm. He posted all the same information as on his temp tag on the cardboard. I rode with him as a passenger to see what would happen. We got pulled over by a group of 5 cop cars after 10 minutes, like we were some sort of terrorists. They let us go because everything was legit, but have no illusions that you will certainly attract MORE scrutiny, and LESS anonymity.

Re:Poor analysis (3, Insightful)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452109)

Just like your social security number was never meant to be used outside of the social security system. Let's be honest here. A lot of us write software, and not just exclusive to that group, we have all experienced this phenomenon:

Just about every project grows well beyond it's initial purpose.

Re:Poor analysis (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452237)

For instance, Earth was originally intended to be a cosmic beverage warmer.

Re:Poor analysis (1)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452285)

OK, so what we need is a shiny new anti-project specifically targeting scope creep in other projects.

Re:Poor analysis (5, Informative)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452153)

I have a problem related to this.

I lived in PA until recently. Once I, oh the horrors, changed insurance companies... You know what the knuckleheads at PennDOT did? They sent me a letter telling me that my insurance had lapsed, and demanding that I send them proof of insurance or face castration (or maybe it was just a fine).

I looked into it, and found out that EVERY SINGLE PERSON in PA who changes their insurance gets this letter. Why? The jackasses in Harrisburg passed a law that demanded the insurance companies notify the government when someone drops insurance, but did not write into the law that they need to notify the government when someone BUYS coverage. I mean, holy shit... only politicians can be so dense. I wrote a letter much more politely phrased than this post and got the expected blow-off from my state representatives.

So if PA ever adopts this policy of scanning for dropped insurance, they will end up pulling over anyone who has recently SWITCHED insurance and is unlucky enough to be in view of a trooper. Groovy, what a country.

Re:Poor analysis (2, Funny)

bezza (590194) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452205)

They threatened to cut of your balls because you didn't pay your insurance?

Or maybe you meant incarceration?

Re:Poor analysis (1)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452301)

Hey, man: if she ain't broke, fix 'er 'til she's crippled.

Re:Poor analysis (2, Interesting)

darjen (879890) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452157)

You almost have it. It's not that license plates should never have been designed. It's that the state never should be granted the coercive monopoly power of vehicle registration. Forced state license registration is purely for revenue purposes.

Re:Poor analysis (1)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452215)

that's kind of the point though.

License plates say you payed your registration fees, also known as an ad valorem tax on your car.

This goes to the government for things like road construction, etc, etc..

The inclusion of unique numerical identifiers should never have happened, though. All you need is a decal with the same anti-counterfeiting measures used on US currency.

Re:Poor analysis (2, Informative)

interiot (50685) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452347)

If license plate numbers didn't exist, you'd have WAAAY more people running from the cops.

The absolute first thing a police officer does when they decide to pull you over is to take your license plate. THEN they turn their lightbar on. If you try to run after they take your license plate number, you're an idiot, because an "evading a police officer" charge will show up on your record, possibly including an arrest warrant, etc.

However, if you run before they get your number (usually by turning into a residential area... sadly, I know a guy who likes to do this), then all they have to go on is a vehicle of make X and color Y. If they were going to pull you over for a more minor infraction, it often isn't worth it for them to spend more than 10-15 minutes looking for you.

Re:Poor analysis (1)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452319)

Before we paint the state as pure evil, consider that, lacking someone coordinating road building and maintenance, we'd all have to drive tanks and have more ridiculous snarls than already in evidence.
The task of thinking about roads has to fall to someone, and we all need to chip in somehow to fund them.
Yes, the occasional http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Dig_(Boston%2C_Massachusetts) [wikipedia.org] happens. Cost of doing business.

Efficiency. (5, Insightful)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#24451981)

'I just think it makes us a lot more effective and a lot more efficient in how our time is being used,' [a senior detective] said.

Mindless seeking towards some arbitrary level of "efficiency" (which is never achieved, requiring yet more investment in equipment and technology and more loss of civil liberties) should not be the primary function of law enforcement.

Re:Efficiency. (1)

kipman725 (1248126) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452103)

your post is impeding the efficiency of the policing system, please report to your local police education centre citizen.

Re:Efficiency. (2, Interesting)

garcia (6573) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452119)

Boy, I sure am glad that those detectives won't be wasting their time tracking down those with lapsed insurance and emissions tests so that they can instead be freed up to work on important things instead.

Oh wait, they wouldn't have done it in the first place and now it's just made a nearly unnecessary job a lot easier to generate revenue for the city and headaches for people who are already short on cash for various real-world reasons. Awesome.

Yay, America is safe from those horrendous evils and now officially sucks as bad as 1956 Russia.

Re:Efficiency. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24452241)

You've never been hit by someone without insurance. Guess what, you have to pay. Sucks, doesn't it. Particularly when you've got no legal recourse against them, because they're illegals. Driving is not a right (read your constitution again; you have the right to assembly, but not the right to drive). If we've got a way to get the cons off the road, I say do it. If you get picked up for your unpaid parking tickets, well, sucks to be you.

Now, mind you, I see no justification, at all, for the government recording what plate was seen where. Perhaps we should start a petition to keep the government from collecting that data unless there's a search warrant.

Re:Efficiency. (1)

Ichijo (607641) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452193)

Mindless seeking towards some arbitrary level of "efficiency" (which is never achieved, requiring yet more investment in equipment and technology and more loss of civil liberties) should not be the primary function of law enforcement.

At what level does improved efficiency suddenly result in a loss of civil liberties?

I would argue (and I think W. Edwards Deming would have agreed [wikipedia.org] ) that it's everyone's job to improve efficiency.

Re:Efficiency. (1)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452325)

You are apparently not a worshipper of the Metrics God.

CSNY Déjà Vu (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24451983)

a must see for all potential survivors of the corepirate nazi regime. so that we may not be hoodwinked/bushwhacked so easily in the future, should there be one, that we can function in.

Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#24451985)

How do I just look up a license plate number, without the fancy gizmos? Just an app or webpage that I can query with the plate number. Or the VIN. To get the owner's name, and hopefully their address.

I'm tired of people driving like murderers, especially when I'm on my motorcycle. I usually get up close to them and snap their picture, and their plate. Which calms me down a little, especially when they start covering their face. (No, I don't care if that endangers them, and I only do it when I am fully safe to do it.) But if I could go home and look up their identity, I could drop by with a note reminding them that they can't just get away with it.

Someday I'd love to send a video of these jerks driving recklessly direct to the cops, and get a call back from them with me bearing witness to the report. Then they can round up that jerk, and I can narrate the video to the judge, and really help get these homicidal drivers off the road.

But in the meantime, how do I just look up their plate# or VIN?

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (2, Informative)

Iphtashu Fitz (263795) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452021)

You most likely can't. But the police can. They have access to that sort of data. Mostly they have databases containing the license plates of known stolen cars, etc. Since many police cars now have laptop computers in them it's an easy enough process for a police department to upload a database of known stolen car license plates to each officers car, then let the cameras do their thing. As the cop is driving down a street the laptop just pops up an alert if he passes a car with the plate.

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24452025)

For one, you need to get some help, and for two, www.publicdata.com.

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452127)

Pretty limited search, especially for license plates. But thanks for the help :).

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (2, Funny)

mfnickster (182520) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452083)

I'm tired of people driving like murderers

The scary thing about murderers, is they drive just like you and me!

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24452089)

I sure hope your vigilante attitude doesn't get me killed. Maybe I'll look up your plate when you're enacting your validated revenge and enact my own.

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (4, Interesting)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452117)

How do I just look up a license plate number, without the fancy gizmos? Just an app or webpage that I can query with the plate number. Or the VIN. To get the owner's name, and hopefully their address.

I'm tired of people driving like murderers, especially when I'm on my motorcycle. I usually get up close to them and snap their picture, and their plate. Which calms me down a little, especially when they start covering their face. (No, I don't care if that endangers them, and I only do it when I am fully safe to do it.) But if I could go home and look up their identity, I could drop by with a note reminding them that they can't just get away with it.

Someday I'd love to send a video of these jerks driving recklessly direct to the cops, and get a call back from them with me bearing witness to the report. Then they can round up that jerk, and I can narrate the video to the judge, and really help get these homicidal drivers off the road.

But in the meantime, how do I just look up their plate# or VIN?

And i'm tired of motorcyclists thinking they own the road.

Recently I was visiting my family in detroit and was rented a grand prix.

So i'm driving down telegraph, check behind me, and change lanes.

Suddenly, this motorcyclist is hitting my window.. he was hugging my blind spot (you can't check it, that's why it's called a "blind spot"), which is particularly large on the model i was driving.

I tell him where to stick it, and he speeds off. Over the next 5 minutes, i watch him hug the blind spots of 3 more vehicles before I finally reached my turn.

If so many people are near-missing you, maybe you're that guy!
do you by chance drive a black crotch rocket in the detroit area?
Accidents are a two-way affair.

By the way, snapping people's pictures while at speed on a public road is a good way to get yourself, the other driver, and innocent third parties killed. Remember princess Dai?

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (2, Insightful)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452185)

Unless you're driving a van, you can check your "blind" spots by turning your head. Certainly worked when I've driven a Grand Prix, although it was a while ago and maybe you had a newer model with extra large posts or something. But if you're just checking your mirrors and not moving your head, you have only yourself to blame.

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (1)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452329)

the latest grand prix has utterly massive posts in the rear of the car.. form over function. (think normal rear passenger windows, but with a huge trangle painted black across the bottom-rear quadrant)

It was a rental though, so it's not as if I had much of a choice.

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (1)

oyenstikker (536040) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452197)

If you have blind spots in a modern car, your mirrors are not positioned properly

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (2, Funny)

loraksus (171574) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452243)

If you have blind spots in a modern car, your mirrors are not positioned properly

Or you're driving a claustrophobic, poorly designed, small windowed piece of shit like a Dodge Caliber.

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (2, Informative)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452281)

I live in the southeast. Do you think i'm stupid enough to trust just my mirrors when changing lanes?

I actually turned and looked, with my own eyeballs, and nothing was there.

Every car has a blind spot, but american cars lately have been getting really bad about it, and motorcycles are considerably smaller than most vehicles.

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (2, Informative)

nabsltd (1313397) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452351)

It is impossible to place your mirrors in such a way that a motorcycle is never in a blind spot.

This is because they can accelerate so quickly that if you have your mirrors placed to eliminate the blind spot immediately to the left of your vehicle, your mirror shows you too much of the lane immediately to your left, and not enough of the lane to the left of that one.

This moves the blind spot to slightly farther back in the lane immediately to your left, along with a largish one in the next lane over. For cars, this isn't a big deal, as either part of them will be outside the blind spot, or they won't be able to accelerate quickly enough to cause a problem if you move left a lane.

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (3, Interesting)

Cheerio Boy (82178) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452223)

Over the next 5 minutes, i watch him hug the blind spots of 3 more vehicles before I finally reached my turn.

That's not a motorcyclist - that's an organ donor waiting to happen.

Please don't judge the rest of us on two wheels by his actions.

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (2, Insightful)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452309)

i'm just saying those of us on 4 wheels are driving flawed machines.

Blind spots are serious business. I always check it, wait 3 more seconds, and check it again.

35% of the time, someone was there.

It's very important not to hang near the rear quarter panels for an extended period of time. move up toward the doors, or back behind the vehicle by about 7 feet.

I always do the same.

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24452239)

it's only a blind spot if you don't look. Use your head... And neck.

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24452297)

Maybe you would feel better traveling on a Canadian bus?

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (1)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452363)

Obviously there will be a huge market for car cameras, just as for GPS units.
What will be interesting is when you can drive along and use voice commands to upload clips of jackass drivers to YouTube in near real-time.
As we slide into Idiocracy, you'll have a "Traffic Follies" show where you can shame the biggest 'tards of the day, nestled in between Bob Violence and $WEEKday Night Firefight.

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (2, Interesting)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452155)

I think I almost ran someone like you over the other day. I was merging across lanes to get to the fast lane, and I didn't see him. It's not that I wasn't looking, but motorcycles are so small, and he was in my blind spot. I felt bad until he got up next to my window and started yelling something at me. What a jerk! He must have though I did it on purpose. I just shrugged my shoulders at him.

You must understand that a motorcycle is just not as safe as a full-sized car.

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (1)

drawfour (791912) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452299)

No, motorcyclists do not think people try to run them off the road on purpose. We just know that assholes like you who think the excuse "he was in my blind spot" is a legitimate reason for almost running someone off the road are, well, assholes. There is no such thing as a blind spot, on any vehicle. If there is a blind spot that cannot be resolved by repositioning the mirrors, or physically turning your head, then you do not have the correct mirrors for the vehicle you are driving.

Re:Just Looking Up a License Plate Number? (-1, Flamebait)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452357)

If they were in your way while merging, then they were not in your blind spot. Car blind spots [wikipedia.org] are behind you. And even if your car is so big that it somehow has blind spots, moving across lanes puts wide sectors of your side and front fields into which you're moving in clear view. If you're looking.

So it's obvious that you're lying. And even if you just didn't look carefully enough, and almost killed the biker, then they're not the jerk for just yelling at you. You are the jerk for almost killing them and acting like nothing should happen, not even getting yelled at.

And you're wrong again about that biker being someone like me. Because when I yell at someone like you for almost running me over, and they just shrug their shoulders instead of indicating somehow that maybe they learned a lesson to be more careful next time, I don't just keep yelling. I smash off your rearview mirror, then beat it to smithereens against your car. If that doesn't sink in the right way, then I smash your window with it. Any funny moves from there, and you've got a guy wearing body armor and a helmet ripping, punching and choking you. Wearing gloves that cover fingerprints. On a motorcycle that can get away without a trace.

You must understand that bikers are risk takers. And that some of us are me. And that if you try something stupid like almost killing me and then acting like a "jerk" about it, I'm going to ruin your day at least as bad as you almost ruined mine.

I've got no problem... (5, Insightful)

Iphtashu Fitz (263795) | more than 6 years ago | (#24451999)

As long as technology like this is used only for identifying stolen cars, cars with expired registrations, insurance, etc. I'm perfectly fine with it. I like the idea of making sure cars are properly registered, insured, inspected, etc. because I'm the only safe driver out there and everybody else is a terrible driver! Seriously, though, driving is a privilege, and if you want that privilege then you need to make sure your car is safe (inspected) and insured in the event of an accident with another drive.

Where I get concerned is if, as the submission mentions, is if the police, feds, etc. decide to start using this to track people randomly. I recall reading an article about this technology a few years ago and it indicated that license plate data wasn't archived in any way. The camera just snaps a picture of the plate, uses image recognition to determine the numbers & letters, then does a quick database search to see if it's stolen, etc. then discards the data if no match is found. One issue I recall in the article I read was that it wasn't 100% accurate, so if a potential match was found it would display it for the officer in the car to make the final determination. If the technology still isn't 100% accurate then simply storing results wouldn't be all that useful since you couldn't rely on it. But if they've improved the accuracy then it certainly wouldn't be too difficult to start doing that...

Having said all that, if you're concerned about this then you might as well just stay locked in your home for the rest of your life. The growing use of security cameras means many people are caught on video numerous times a day. Cameras are being used more and more to help deal with traffic congestion in major cities, so they can already track cars that way. And most toll roads now let you use transponders to pay without stopping, and all that data can easily track you as well. Add to all that the fact that cellular phones can be tracked if you have your phone on, GPS units in cars may cache data that can be recovered, etc.

So if you don't want to be tracked then don't ever use a cell phone, gps, drive on toll roads, or drive through any cities or other areas where traffic cameras are used....

Re:I've got no problem... (1)

thorndt (814642) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452033)

Yes, you are correct: the cat is well and truly out of the bag. There is practically no way to regain our privacy from the prying eyes of the government. And many corporations.

Re:I've got no problem... (2, Interesting)

DaedalusHKX (660194) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452151)

There is. But neither you, nor I, are willing to shed that much blood or die in the process of regaining that lost ground. Therefore it will likely not happen unless others, aside from the unwilling you and unwilling I, will have to dirty their hands.

I am willing to bet HUGE bucks nobody is willing to fight the level of ground war, globe wide, that would be required to put the insane super governments of today back in their place... "a bunch of bandits enter a village... they kill the elders, kill the hunters and rape the women. To their children later, they pass the power to kill anyone except each other, and tell everyone what to do. They become 'the kings of old' and their children become their heirs. Centuries later they are worshipped as those who 'gave us society and laws'... yep... the codified law... several hundred reasons why they can kill you, and why you're not allowed to kill them when they show up to do it. Fun huh?" Sure, the technologies and the groups of bandits have changed... over time, but its the same groups of bandits or their descendants being "elected" today. Violent bandits were replaced by con artists who employ violent bandits, called cops, but one way or another, its the same ancient scam being perpetuated. Ah well, another drink to their names! They "protect" us... probably only from freedom and true prosperity.

Of course stopping voting en masse, would've been the miracle cure, but that is even less likely than a vast majority of honest citizens getting up in arms and teaching their overreaching governments to keep their hands off and not falling for the same trick the way they always do when they actually rebel... yeah... as if. I gave up hope for my fellow man a year or two ago. I feel better since I stopped caring... or it could just be the numb hopelessness kicking in. On the other hand since I've heavily invested in police state technologies some years ago when I was still stupid enough to employ Americans and bid for jobs and do all kinds of hard work that got taxed heavily, (no joke) and I'm at least making enough to have completely closed my business, quit working and stay at home. Now I'm bored, maybe I'll write a book about the wisdom of investing in the stupidity of mankind. Actually I think Warren Buffett already did. Or maybe I'll go fishing. Reading all this shit keeps confirming just how stupid humanity is. Almost as stupid as fish. "Hey look... worm swimming in the middle of a lake... on a shiny metal thing... quick, lets eat it before someone else does." Wow, that line sounds just like voting campaigns.

Cue in the fucking aliens already, I'm sick of this show.

Re:I've got no problem... (1)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452369)

You're right, so why not let the government regulate health care?

Re:I've got no problem... (1)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452075)

So if you don't want to be tracked, you should stay at home and shut yourself off from the activities that you used to perform daily, legally, and with no watchful eyes. Why is it that you are OK with this? Why is it that being tracked is ok, as long as it is only to lookup those that may have a lapsed registration/insurance/warrant. When governments tack on additional requirements to driving, will you be ok with that as well?

Re:I've got no problem... (1)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452255)

If you don't want to be tracked, rather than staying locked away all day, why not fight back against the tracking?

Re:I've got no problem... (1)

Derosian (943622) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452359)

It's a relatively simple procedure to create a program that reads the incoming license plate data and identifies the location of the police vehicle which took it and then to archive the location of said license plate. In fact I could probably write a program to do it install it on the server and then have it E-mail me this information on a daily basis. Actually this may not be such a bad thing if we could get our hands on it. After all, license plate information has never been used with ill intent right. ;D

I'm not worried (1)

clang_jangle (975789) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452013)

While all this certainly has lots of scary potential, I have firm faith in the incompetence of bureaucrats and civil servants everywhere. And having worked for the SSA, believe me, I've seen it in action. The main danger is still the same as it always was, regardless of the tech involved. Namely, that some psycho with a badge will take a dislike to you, for whatever reason.

No problem as it is, if implemented correctly (4, Interesting)

thirty-seven (568076) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452051)

I don't see a problem with the current use of these camera systems, assuming it is implemented reasonably. By "reasonably", I mean something like the following: Each camera is connected to a database of the plates of known "offenders", such as stolen cars, fugitives, or more trivial things like cars with lapsed registration, insurance, or failed emissions tests. It scans all the licence plates it sees and checks them against the database - if there is a match, the police or Motor Vehicle Administration enforcement can take action. Otherwise, the scanned plate is not stored and certainly the time and place at which is was scanned is not stored.

As I said, if the system is implemented in a reasonably way, like my scenario, then I have no problem with it being used to check for known infractions and offences - no matter how trivial.

Re:No problem as it is, if implemented correctly (1)

BLKMGK (34057) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452247)

I researched this about a year ago. In the article I read the database of plates that was gathered by the officer was being deleted at the end of each shift. However I got the DISTINCT impression that the police were considered keeping the database for far longer periods of time but hadn't figured out the data transfer issues and storage. The video I saw of this was pretty enlightening, officers would cruise up and down the aisles of large shopping centers looking for flagged cars. Stolen cars, expired stickers, warrants for arrest, all sorts of things. Even scarier was a picture of a bridge in Canada that had FIVE of these devices - one covering EACH lane of traffic recording ALL cars going by.

Youtube has some vids on this, the one i saw is this one I think -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3ibjQjQQOQ [youtube.com] Check out the bridge in the 3:45 min mark or so. Their final statement at the end is pretty telling "ALPR is going to revolutionize the way we police in North America" Yeah, THAT'S what I'm afraid of!

Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24452113)

License plate frame with tons of IR LEDs. Then the cameras are rendered useless. Of course that's likely to get you attention as well.

Concerning (3, Interesting)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452121)

They are the size of softballs, cost $25K

So for just 3 or 4 of these "softballs" we can pay the salary for a police officer on the streets. That sounds really efficient.

Ohhh, but let's be FAIR. How more effectively does this allow a police officer to play traffic cop?

Initially purchased to find stolen cars

Well, I got to admit it. That sounds really nice. Cops don't have to pay attention to stolen car reports anymore in the squad car. Just listen for the ding-ding-ding of their information systems indicating that the car in the left hand lane is reported stolen.

but also drivers who neglected or failed their emissions inspections or let their insurance policies lapse.

Ummm, how? This presumes that the databases are updated to reflect this in the first place. With emissions it is entirely possible that the person DID get it corrected, but the database was not updated. This is awfully dependent on a LOT of systems operating properly. I am not even aware that this data IS being transmitted to the DMV from the shops.

Insurance? They must be smoking something. I myself, along with TWO other people, have had letters sent from the DMV indicating that our insurance has been dropped by the insurance agency and that we must rectify it immediately. Problem is, they were DEAD WRONG. Not only did we all have proof of insurance in our vehicles, but we all had proof of payments to our respective companies during the period we were covered.

Both of this situations is going to get pretty ugly on the road. It puts the officers in the position of *trusting* the data in their information systems against the drivers who will probably have documentation to the contrary at least 1/3 of the time. Maybe more, I don't know. My own personal experience and the experience of others would seem to indicate it could be higher.

I just think it makes us a lot more effective and a lot more efficient in how our time is being used,' [a senior detective] said

I'm sorry I just read that as, "We don't have to do our jobs anymore and we can also think a heck of a lot less. Having blind trust in the pretty lights in the car makes it really us for to concentrate on driving and eating donuts".

Maybe that was not fair, but I see it as the same situation as the new rifles that can choose between lethal and non-lethal. It is taking too much responsibility away from the officers to apply their judgment. I want officers to think and interact with their environment personally. I strongly support more training and higher salaries too.

The last thing we need is a bunch of dumbasses in uniforms running around with PDA's going, "Uhhhhhh, doh... the smart box says I got to take you in since you is a suspicious looking person or something. Are you going to resist? Hehe.. I have not hit anything with my stick in like 3 days so please resist".

The District and Prince George's County use them to enforce parking rules

Now this just sounds outright ludicrous. How can a traveling squad car with a softball that recognizes license plates determine what the hell a parked car is doing?. I don't think it can. The only thing I can think of is recording the dates, times, and positions that a car may be in to apply some sort of rules about how long a particular car can be there. I can POKE a hole in that RIGHT NOW. I park my car there for X amount of hours during which a squad car records that I am there during the time I am parked. I leave, thereby resetting whatever time limit there was, and come back X amount of time later. During my second stay a whole different squad car can record my position and time I was there. WHen applying the rules how do they: 1) Know exactly when I parked and when I left? 2) Know that if my car was there the entire time?

Maybe I am not using my imagination enough but I really don't see how these devices are really contributing to public safety. I see them causing a lot more situations of ambiguity and frustration between the public and the police. I don't think we need anymore personally.

Of course, there is ALSO the possibility of a HUGE database being created that records timestamps, positions, and identities. That kind of information can be dangerous for people in authority to have. I personally don't trust the authorities only because of how many situations in our history in which information like this is abused.

In the end we have to weigh the quite serious implications for privacy, anonymity, and freedom against the increase in public safety provided through the increased effectiveness of our police forces.

Re:Concerning (1)

BLKMGK (34057) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452271)

In Virginia the emissions results are transmitted to DMV as soon as the testing is done, yes they know if you failed. Parking in the District is so bad that after a certain time only residents are allowed to be parked in certain areas - if they look up the tag and it's NOT for a resident then they know that the person is parked illegally.

So yeah, they really are using them in this manner and in the District it's got to be a wet dream for them. They look for ANY way they can to make money including rigging red light cams! Yes, they have been caught at this. Frankly, this is prety frightening to me....

Re:Concerning (2, Interesting)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452361)

only residents are allowed to be parked in certain areas - if they look up the tag and it's NOT for a resident then

My car breaks down and I borrow a friends. Heck, I am not driving my car for any one of thousands of reasons. They cite the car I am driving.

I am clearly not guilty, nor is the owner of the car. How do we both go about challenging the ticket and proving our innocence?

In Las Vegas, I had a parking ticket in which I even showed documents to an ignorant malcontent that the ticket was unwarranted for registration and she rudely refused to tear up the ticket. After dealing with the appropriate department they had the audacity to agree that I was innocent but not completely eliminate the fine. They still wanted 25$.

My lawsuit with the city is now 4 YEARS old regarding this.

This will just be a revenue stream for them. The administration is banking on the fact that not everybody is like me. A person that will actually die before paying a fine for something I am innocent of. Wait, PROVEN BEYOND ALL DOUBT to be innocent of. Most people will just accept the gentle butt raping by the government.

This country was founded partly in response to taxation without representation. Well I don't know what the hell to call this, but it's far worse.

Re:Concerning (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452367)

Salary and benefits in Houston are up to about 110k. And the pensions are murder.

You know what's scary? (1, Troll)

Adreno (1320303) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452139)

What's scary, is that the general populace is able to get behind the wheel that controls hundreds or thousands of pounds of metal, and move it at a considerable speed around people, animals, and the like. Police supervision is not nearly as scary as this reality. If you're driving on any public road, anything visible is in the public domain, and the pavement under your tires is put there courtesy of the government and the collective taxes, so this is the furthest thing from scary for me. You should really expect to have your license plate scanned as soon as you hit pavement that isn't privately owned.

Re:You know what's scary? (1)

Adreno (1320303) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452199)

however, I will admit that storage of such data (where you have been, and when) is another question entirely. If you're just scanning for immediate law-breakers, I have no qualm with that.

100% enforcement would also prompt changes. (4, Interesting)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452141)

100% enforcement of outrageous laws which were passed under the assumption they would be difficult to enforce would eventually lead to the repeal of said laws.

A little pain now means a lot less later.

Re:100% enforcement would also prompt changes. (1)

zaax (637433) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452161)

At then end of the day it's down to how much can a computer store and process. ie how much money have you got. The USA checks all out going and incoming information, thats big processing. To read car plate number no problem.

Re:100% enforcement would also prompt changes. (5, Insightful)

Kohath (38547) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452269)

Exactly. It is the laws that are the problem. No law should exist that you don't want enforced 100% of the time.

Selective enforcement or lax enforcement encourage injustice and allow government power to grow quietly.

If we had 100% enforcement, the majority would support freedom. Would-be tyrants are in the majority now -- they think it's cool to use government power against people they don't like to promote their tyrannical preferences.

using them around my town (1)

Neost (1013223) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452145)

They've had them in operation here for a few months and supposedly have almost a zero percent success rate for catching any bad plates. Of course around here it is probably because they don't know how to use the damn things.

I don't understand (2, Insightful)

AceofSpades19 (1107875) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452187)

whats so bad about this exactly?, people that do this stuff are breaking rules. I mean, catching people who failed emission tests is good for the environment and catching people without insurance is also a good thing. Its like where I live, people were mad when the cops had radar on the highway, and the people were saying its just a revenue generator, when speeding can kill people, and catching speeders stops people from getting killed. So can someone explain why this is so bad?

Re:I don't understand (1)

Rob Simpson (533360) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452291)

Well, the issue with radar (especially photo radar, which doesn't stop people from speeding until after the fact) is that the prospect of generating revenue results in artificially low speed limits that don't do anything to prevent deaths (see autobahn [wikipedia.org] ). Ironically, people seem to drive just above the speed limit no matter what the weather conditions - when it would be safe to drive considerably faster in ideal conditions, and only a fraction of the speed in heavy rain/darkness/etc.

Bah... if Google did this... (3, Interesting)

Animaether (411575) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452245)

...you'd see a metric shit-ton of comments pointing out that -eeeeeeeeeeverybody- can take pictures of, and store into database the information relevant to, your license plates... how your car is out in public and you have no expectation of privacy there.. blablabla. No.. if Google did this, it'd be all good*. Heck, if an insurance company gave everybody who cooperated with their employees tracking their license plates in exchange for a 5% discount (that is.. raise the rates for everybody else), the vast majority would go for it.
( * okay, granted, there were actually a few people who felt Google was in the wrong with that private road thing (pending court decision, was it?).. but then the sheer number of comments saying that they should have made it gated if they didn't want anybody trespassing.. errrrr. )

But I'm not here to rant on the topic of Big Government vs Big Corporation.

"They [...] cost $25K". So two of those could employ an additional actual flesh and blood cop. Or two depending on just how bad their pay is. I'd go for the two additional cops.

Then again...
"and can scan and run thousands of plates a day through the local Motor Vehicle Administration database."

If that means they catch more people who break the law* and that ends up in a net positive exceeding the 25k (presumably a one-time purchase, but who am I kidding) by a healthy margin, maybe they could also afford an additional copper or two. If nothing else, they might not have to send rookies out to collect on some fine and put those rookies to work patrolling the streets instead, and seasoned cops don't have to waste time in their patrols doing 'quick' checks on plates in the area that seem out of place.
( * I understand some laws are unjust - so get 'm changed. Guess what.. everybody speeding 5mph hasn't upped the speed limits on a large scale officially.. unofficially officers probably don't care much as long as you go with the flow of traffic.. unless they're having a bad day or have to meet a quota. Sucks to be you when that is the case. )

"The easy mission creep these devices encourage is summarized in the article"
mission creep... well we all know what the mission is supposed to be (peace and safety and order and all that) and what the mission tends to be (revenue, statistics, making the mayor look good, blabla), but let's err on the side of the benign and try the next sentence...

"Initially purchased to find stolen cars, a handful of so-called tag readers are in use across the Washington region to catch not just car thieves, but also drivers who neglected or failed their emissions inspections or let their insurance policies lapse."
In other words... initially purchased to [help uphold the law], but [some now] also [help uphold the law] and [help uphold the law].
Yeah, I can see how that is evil.

I'm far more worried about explicit -and- implicit loss of privacy than the throwing of the "now the cops can tell, with near-zero effort, that I let my insurance lapse! It's not fair! *stomps feet*" tantrums. I hate the "I've got nothing to hide" argument, relevant to the privacy issue, but I hate it when people who know they broke the law and then get all huffy when they get caught by a machine rather than a human even more.

Anyway - you want scary.. go to The Netherlands come 2012-2016. Apparently we are all to drive around with government-monitored GPS on-board by then. To have us pay road use taxes based on the hour of the day, which road it was, etc. I'm sure being able to track whoever they want from a Lay-Z Boy is just an added perk they'll reveal when the tech is entrenched in use and they've got a high profile case (a murderer, perhaps a pedophile, being arrested) to demonstrate that being able to track everybody is a Good Thing(TM). Ba-a-a-a-a, bleated the population, as their road use taxes were lowered ( not really - they're making up for it with a wide margin in the 'provincial tax'... which will apply to -all- citizens, not just those who actually drive cars.)
But that, too, is another rant.

Re:Bah... if Google did this... (2, Insightful)

BLKMGK (34057) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452343)

If this isn't scary you aren't using your imagination. Picture this, some dumbass blowhard gets it in their head that storing ALL of this data is a good idea. Why? Well because when some little kid gets snatched and everyone goes crazy looking for the guy who supposedly did it they can lookup where in the world this vehicle has been seen before in addition to having all of these devices look for the tag. Hey then one day someone with access decides they want to know where their wife goes while they are at work.... Keep going, maybe a politician wants to know where someone who opposes him goes. the list is ENDLESS. do not forget that while these devices are being advertised as being used on police cars there's NO REASON why they cannot also be used in fixed emplacements. Ponder that the next time you drive under an overpass, overhead street sign, or in my area red lights that have little cams pointed down next to them. Many cities now employ red light cameras, traffic cameras, and surveillance cameras - how hard to employ these too exactly?

Watch this vid and be VERY afraid -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3ibjQjQQOQ [youtube.com]

Don't get too paranoid over this, Dale Gribble... (1)

Nick Driver (238034) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452267)

I work for an outfit in Texas that installs these systems into patrol cars. It's hard enough to get a current database for these systems to compare the OCR'd license plates against. They currently have no ability to correlate all scanned plates with GPS coordinates and it would take a substantial development effort to put such a monster together anyway. All they do is compare OCR'ed plate numbers against a pre-determined database of already known stolen or wanted tag numbers and the systems as they exist today can barely accomplish that task with enough accuracy to be worthwhile to install at all.

When and where (1)

Enderandrew (866215) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452273)

Every single police scanner would be scanning tons and tons plates every few seconds. You're talking about combining that with GPS data, and then also cross-referencing that with other relevant data of what exists in that geography, and then people monitoring that find something relevant?

It seems like quite a bit to store, monitor, etc. Having run a security company and dealt with police forces, often they are under-budgeted and under-manned. I just don't seem something like that happening any time soon.

Someday perhaps, but not today.

Suppose the DHS decides? (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452283)

Umm they decided that when they were first formed.

Virtual Papers (2, Insightful)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452303)

This isn't much different then demanding one's papers on the street randomly, 'just to check you out', even when you are just minding your own business.

This is 'presumed guilty' at its finest.

who says (1)

no-body (127863) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452311)

Suppose the DHS decides it wants a permanent archive of who was where, when?
That this is not already happening and cannot be disclosed in the interest of national security to fight terrorism?

nana nana nana - I hear you...

And - if you are not in support of this happening well... you are a terrorist!


Quite a trap!

The Size of Softballs.... (2, Funny)

LameAssTheMity (998266) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452321)

They are the size of softballs

I'm just gonna start walking around with a baseball bat "defending our civil liberties."

Re:The Size of Softballs.... (1)

LameAssTheMity (998266) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452345)

In fact, I'm in full support of this idea now!

Those cameras posted on telephone lines are SO hard to knock out!

If this wasn't Slashdot I would be supprised.... (0, Troll)

Valcrus (1242564) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452341)

that there were so many paranoid people out there. I don't know how I feel about the emission checks so much but for lapsed insurance I'm completely fine with that. The last thing I need is someone running a light and hitting me then not having any insurance. As for the tracking where you have been you can look at it this way if they wanted to they could just track you with satellites or your cell phone if they really wanted to. Heck who is to say they aren't looking at a screen full of that stuff right now. Heck you know your cable companies can track what shows your watch if they feel like it. Its not worth it at the moment but who is to say that someday it won't be done.

A critical distinction (2, Insightful)

linuxwrangler (582055) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452355)

To me there is a critical distinction between two scenarios.

In the first instance, the device has an on-board list of suspect plates (stolen, warrants, etc.) and alerts the officer when one is detected. Officers have lists of local stolen cars and routinely run plates of vehicles "of interest" anyway. In this use, the device would not be used to store any observed plates - it only alerts an officer of the presence of a plate already associated with a violation of the law.

In one respect, this reduces bias. An officer can't run every plate he/she sees so there is always some conscious or sub-conscious profiling going on. My guess is that plates of cars driven by young black males are run far more often than those of middle-aged white females with a kid in the back seat. An automatic plate scanner doesn't care.

And personally, I don't have a lot of sympathy for people who are "merely" uninsured or belching smog. I want those drivers off the road. Now.

There was a recent crash on the corner by my house - flipped a small SUV over onto the sidewalk where I often walk with my daughter. In that case, the driver had expired registration due to lack of insurance, had actually been pulled over 5-minutes prior to the accident, but was unfortunately let off with a warning and, now running late to work, blew a stop sign causing the accident.

In the second instance, the devices are installed on vehicles or near roadways and store all plates and a timestamp of when they passed. This type of tracking should be outlawed and if employeed despite being illegal, should not be admissable as evidence in any civil or criminal proceding.

Beyond Tracking Violators (3, Insightful)

PPH (736903) | more than 6 years ago | (#24452373)

Like the article said: What happens when this system is expanded to track people's legal movements? Put up enough of these cameras and one can track all vehicles moving into/out of various sectors of a city. Look at London.

What scares the hell out of me is how readily our government will sell this data to private concerns. Anything to boost revenue. What happens if your competitor pays the local police department to place a camera in front of your businesses parking lot and generate a customer list? Your health insurance provider can get a list of people who frequent bars. A foreign government can get a list of all the cars parked at a defense contractor. There are many ways this information could be abused.

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