back to article ACLU warns of mass tracking of US drivers by government spycams

US drivers are being tracked to an unprecedented extent thanks to a system fattened by federal grant money and spurred by the rush to market private automobile data, according to a report by the ACLU. After analyzing 26,000 pages of documents from police departments spread across the USA, along with information about private …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    CAPTCHA for plates

    Yup! CAPTCHA films to put over license plates. Gonna make me rich!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: CAPTCHA for plates

      Gonna get you fined.

  2. gnufrontier

    Big Data Plane - Nobody is in the cockpit.

    It's not like any human being sees this data. The data is funneled through some data analytic engine filled with meaningless statistical drivel and a bunch of switches (ie case, if then type rules but fancier)

    The issue isn't privacy, its that our civilization is on auto-pilot and once the system turns its Eye of Sauron on you, your life is over. It's no different than identity theft which also screws you up because you have to correct systems - not correct people. People have nothing to do with it. We are extensions of the machine, its caretakers.

    It's not as bad as it is going to get I can assure you (nothing goes backwards slowly - there is only collapse) but just as we can't have what we have without all the energy we suck out of the ground, we can't manage this behemoth of a civilization without a bunch of auto pilots.

    Forget human beings - we are irrelevant. "Welcome my son, welcome to the machine. Where have you been? it's alright we know where you've been." (Pink Floyd)

    The whole privacy issue is another example of what Jacques Barzun author of From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present called Primitivism - a desire to get back to basics - and which is most pronounced in time of technological change.

    Bottom line is that nothing changes - civilization marches on - more humans underfoot.

    But I am an optimist. I'll be dead before it gets real bad.

    1. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

      Re: Big Data Plane - Nobody is in the cockpit.

      "It's not like any human being sees this data."

      Yes, it is, unfortunately. If the data were collected, pushed through an algo that didn't care about you personally, and DELETED, the problem would be minimal. The problem, as the report apparently stresses, is that many - not all - police forces retain personally identifiable data, including location and timings, for a long time and indefinitely. And share it quite indiscriminately. The potential - and most likely, real - scope of abuse is enormous. Abuse by human beings, not algos, I mean.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Border checks...

    ... and I don't just mean national borders. If you travel from Arizona to California on I40, you will go through an agricultural inspection station - nominally to prevent the spread of any pests such as the Mediterranean Fruit Fly from Arizona to the citrus fields of California. A noble endeavor, you might say; after all, they just stop you, ask if you have any fruits or vegetables in the car, maybe take a quick peek in any cooler you might have, and on your way. You don't have to show ID, or registration, or anything else. Perfectly innocent.

    But I've always wondered how difficult it would be to place an ANPR system there, and record all the cars that come through. After all, the cars are all stopped for at least 20 seconds, the driver's attention occupied by the nice ag inspector, and you might be able to get a Bad Guy crossing the border.

    And at all the weigh stations, there are cameras watching the highway - ostensibly to watch for trucks that didn't stop when they were supposed to, but could they be watching the cars, too?

    Just paranoia, I am sure - but unhealthy or healthy?

  4. Florida1920 Silver badge

    Just wait

    Until they network Hellfire-armed Predators to these cameras.

  5. William Boyle

    Not that I agree with such surveillance...

    Ok, 1 in 500 of 29M == 58000. 3% of that == 1740. That's the number of "real" offenders "captured" by the cameras. Not a small number. Does that justify the invasion of our privacy to move about freely? Can they determine which plates are associated with real crimes? Do they care? These are the questions we need to ask.

  6. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Why do they do it? Because they *can*

    Note the line about "lower processing and storage costs."

    And lets be clear a US Judge in New York already ruled that tracking a member of an organized crime family by their phone GPS violates their right to privacy and needs a warrant.

    So WTF gives private companies any right to store license plates (with data and time tags)?

    The UK has had ANPR in many sites with data retention for up to five years but WTF for?

    In a free society who I (as an individual) are and where I am should only become of interest to the state when a crime is committed or there is evidence that a crime will be committed.

    This big data is a fetish. Some of it's implementors may be just ordinary people earning a paycheck but the champions of this system have far more questionable motives.

    1. Kingston Black
      Big Brother

      Re: Why do they do it? Because they *can*

      "Some of it's implementers may be just ordinary people earning a paycheck but the champions of this system have far more questionable motives" - quite so, very questionable it seems.

      It strikes me that it would be easier and cheaper to do the inverse of what the ANPR system does at the moment. i.e. all license plate numbers captured to be compared real-time against a list of cars with out-of-date insurance and/or car tax, stolen cars, other cars of interest etc., and all non-matches (most vehicles) to be instantly forgotten about, no requirement for any storage of innocent data at all. Of course, that system would presume most people are law abiding citizens going about their daily lives. However, our control freak rulers need to try and keep themselves in power don't they? If only we had a B-Ark available, it'd be very full...

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Why do they do it? Because they *can*

      >The UK has had ANPR in many sites with data retention for up to five years but WTF for?

      To protect the children

      A police patrol car out in a residential area one evening got a message that a car with no road tax had been detected by the ANPR in his patrol car - so set off in hot pursuit. At 94mph through a pedestrian crossing - killing a school girl.

      Fortunately it turned out to be a false alarm - the potential terrorist road tax evader had paid.

  7. DrStrangeLug

    The easy solution

    Someone write an mobile phone app that can be use to read the license plate and identify police cars (marked and unmarked) and report their position online in real time.

    See how quickly laws restricting the use of ANPR get rushed in then.....

    1. Nigel 11

      Re: The easy solution

      No, they'd just give police cars a new number-plate on a weekly basis. Or give the police permission to clone someone else's plates, like they've been caught cloning dead babies' identities.

  8. g e


    Glad the UK was able to share something back to the US

  9. Nigel 11

    Bad guys break the rules!

    What's really stupid is the assumption that criminals will obey the rules. In this case, that they'll display the valid number plate for the car in which they are travelling.

    Those with something to hide will clone a plate from another car of the same make, model and colour. Or they'll register the car to a fake identity at a fake address. Or they'll buy a hire-car company so that they can travel in a "borrowed" hire-car and create a false paper trail after the event should they need to.

    So mining the data won't catch anyone that we really want caught, unless they're stupid, in which case it'll just be an "evolutionary" pressure to breed smarter criminals. Yet the data is still stored, waiting for a malign individual to use it for criminal purposes, or for a malign government to use it for genocide.

  10. Graham Cobb

    Why it matters

    Many people don't seem to realise why this matters. Here is an example which seems to be real in the UK today...

    You drive somewhere to join a rally or demonstration about something (anything: Iraq war, abortion, anti-abortion, immigration, anti-facsism, animal rights, ...). You are picked up on ANPR as being in the general area. Do that 2 or 3 more times and the analytics can easily spot you as a trouble-maker, particularly combined with the make of the car (BMW and Mercedes drivers are obviously not militants), and your postcode (protestors don't live in Conservative-voting streets). You then find yourself stopped for "random checks" much more often than other people, particularly when in the areas of future demos, or trying to cross the "ring of steel" in central London.

    This seems to be real. Even 15 years ago, police were parked in all the lay-bys near Witney recording the number plates of cars around the times of the cat farm protests. They were also stopping anyone in old cars, or VW campers, or who looked young for 5 miles around (I live around there and was never stopped -- but then I drove an expensive car).

    Earlier this year judges forced police to delete surveillance records it had kept on 88-year-old John Catt. The judges said "Mr Tudway states, in general terms, that it is valuable to have information about Mr Catt's attendance at protests because he associates with those who have a propensity to violence and crime, but he does not explain why that is so, given that Mr Catt has been attending similar protests for many years without it being suggested that he indulges in criminal activity or actively encourages those that do."

    Obviously, now that police can record all the people who turn up at demonstrations they have decided they should do so.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why it matters

      Dead on!

  11. Eddy Ito Silver badge

    Money maker

    Consider the following:

    Case 1: In California folks steal plates just to avoid paying tolls. The ideal trick is to steal a front plate from a similar car that uses the FasTrak auto-pay transponder so when the thief goes through a toll the system matches the plate and figures 'oh the transponder didn't register we'll just bill it the the registered account' and nobody ever catches on until the victim either realizes they are paying a fortune to travel a road they don't use or they get a ticket for not having a front plate.

    Case 2: My sister's beau had his car stolen in San Francisco where they live but they didn't get the transponder since they had it with them while they were out in the other car. The thieves used the car to cross the Bay Bridge for several weeks before finally dumping it in Oakland. The FasTrak system continued to bill his account for the bridge tolls via the camera knowing the car was stolen and not informing the police about what was an obvious commuter hour pattern. Several months later he started getting notices for dozens of unpaid parking tickets in Oakland which allowed him to find his car and call his insurance company to let them know where they could pick it up as they had already paid him for it. That was in February, he is still trying to sort it all out.

    Moral: The system is designed to make money and you are forced to be a customer if you own a car. Nobody cares who you are or what you do as long as someone pays the bill. The "safety" in traffic safety cameras refers to keeping revenue safe, nothing else.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Money maker

      Dead on!

      1. Graham Marsden
        Big Brother

        Re: Money maker

        The last Labour Government had the same idea. They wanted ANPR cameras at every major junction in the country and they'd time how long it took for you to get from one to another.

        If you got there quicker than their official figures, bingo, automatic speeding ticket!

  12. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge

    And as for the private sector?

    Well, after surreptitiously scooping up information on Wi-Fi points for years via Street View vans Google was hit by a probe from UK watchdog the ICO, but was merely ordered to delete the data and faced no fine.

    Perhaps this was a case of the government not wanting to have things blow up in court in case it came out in front of a judge that the guvies were doing even more than Google was being prosecuted for.

  13. ClanArmstrong

    When are we going to start looking at the character and smarts of Public Officials. Something needs to be done PDQ or lots of DATA will fall into a black hole. Even if they do put proper restrictions in like delete any no hits; there will be all of the DATA before the fix that has already been sold to God knows who. I live in a "Homeowners Association" and in my opinion all the state and federal agencies are just as stupid and ego centric as a HOA, but larger. We need to have Public Officials take some kind of test or meet a not an idiot standard before electing them. The public needs straight no-spin information on politicians from a trusted un-biased third party untouchable by any lobbies or special interests. One dead give away is officials that cheat on their wives. "Cheat on your wife, Cheat on me" if they will cheat on someone they love then what kind of honesty can we expect. We can not discount a lie because of the way the story is worded, "White Lies" being unacceptable of course. It is so sad to think that we are losing freedoms due to our own ignorance and that of our elected officials. I wonder who is in line for all the "Camera Contracts". In the end money is driver that gets anything done in this country. We are as bad as Mexican Jailers.

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