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"Mobile Plate Hunter" Cameras Raise Questions 580

Posted by kdawson
from the mission-creep-meets-big-brother dept.
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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"Mobile Plate Hunter" Cameras Raise Questions

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  • by PeeAitchPee (712652) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @08:46PM (#24451933)
    How about the "Mobile Revenue Generator"?
    • Re:It's misnamed (Score:5, Interesting)

      by couchslug (175151) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:14PM (#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: (Score:3, Informative)

        by kunwon1 (795332) *
        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 (Score:5, Insightful)

          by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:32PM (#24452213) Homepage Journal
          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.
          • Especially since (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @10:22PM (#24452517)

            Insurance brings something else to the table: The experience of dealing with traffic situations. What happens if you cause an accident and someone sues you (as often does happen)? If you don't have insurance, you have to find and retain a lawyer, and you are on the hook for the cost of the lawyer and all settlement fees. So that means you have to maintain a pretty substantial reserve to be able to cover all that.

            I mean let's say you live in a bond state and the minimum is $50,000 since that's what the legal minimum coverage is. Ok, great. However you can't just count on that. The amount of a settlement could go way past that (and you are liable for it) and I'd imagine if you pay out of the bond you have to replace it as well. So you end up needing to have a couple hundred grand, including the bond, available for this purpose.

            Now also, if you have money like that, it probably is not sitting in a checking account. You probably have it in stocks or property or something. Ok, so what happens if you have an accident sometime like, say, now when the market is down? Now you have to lose money because you need to liquidate your assets at a bad time.

            Against that, there is simply maintaining liability insurance. You pay maybe $100/month, probably less, and get a $300,000 policy. Then, if you get in an accident, it's handled. If you get sued, the insurance company hires a lawyer to represent you and them, one who specializes in this (and specializes in settling before it goes to court). You most likely have nothing more to do with it.

            Many people find that to be cheap piece of mind. Even though they CAN afford to simply pay things out, it makes more sense in general to have an insurance company there to handle things. Same kind of deal as hiring a gardener or a financial planner. These are things you can do yourself but often those with money would rather have an expert take care of them so they don't have to worry.

            Having been in an accident, and been sued, I will always maintain insurance. Even if I have billions, to the point where I've no worries at all about being able to handle any settlement, I'll still maintain auto insurance because they will handle things if something happens. The $30,000-50,000 or so I'd save over my life of driving just isn't worth the hassle.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            I think that's not the point. The point is that it's better to have a few uninsured idiots breaking the law than to have innocent people's privacy infringed upon.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Dun Malg (230075)

            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 ...I'm guessing the answer is a small-ish number.

            Vanishingly small! People who have money have insurance not to pay for body work costs in minor fender benders, but to shield their assets from liability from lawsuits. If you're in an accident and the other guy gets the slightest idea that you might have money, there's a very real possibility that he'll suddenly develop all sorts of nebulous neck and back pain. The only time rich folks post a bond rather than pay for insurance is when they're driving something otherwise uninsurable, like certain exotic sp

        • Re:It's misnamed (Score:5, Insightful)

          by gnick (1211984) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @10:45PM (#24452639) Homepage

          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?

          You're right - A lack of insurance doesn't imply that they can't compensate you.

          But there's a very high degree of correlation between persons who drive without insurance and people who won't compensate you.

          Judge the causation/correlation issue however you want. Uninsured drivers tend to fail to take account for at-fault accidents. Whether it's a direct causation effect or not is a moot point - Folks w/o insurance tend to skip out on the bill and I'll happily pony up on gambling odds if you want to volunteer to cover their unpaid damages trying to defend a lack of proof of causation.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Forbman (794277)

        and, just because they do have insurance doesn't mean that you will be compensated, either. Do you think your insurance company is not going to try and find some sort of out so that they don't have to pay you?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Snaller (147050)

        And if when your wife can look up your visit to a hooker that's ok too, eh? ;)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by JaredOfEuropa (526365)
      Modded funny, but... here in the Netherlands fines have become just that: a revenue generator. A few years ago fines were still counted as "extra" revenue, then a controversial change in policy made them part of the general budget of the national government, then annual targets for revenues from fines were introduced ("Don't go to the Zeeland bailiwick, they aren't meeting their fine target this year so they'll do you for as little as a smudged reariew mirror!"). And now fines are being earmarked for spec
  • Almost a year to the day ago, Slashdot ran a story on license plate scanning [slashdot.org].
  • The UK says (Score:2, Informative)

    by sa1lnr (669048)

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

  • Poor analysis (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 02, 2008 @08:52PM (#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 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Pennidren (1211474) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:05PM (#24452045)
      You ever run someone down with your house?
    • 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.

      • by Koby77 (992785) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:41PM (#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 (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:17PM (#24452109) Homepage Journal
      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 (Score:5, Informative)

      by MightyYar (622222) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:24PM (#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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by darjen (879890)

      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.

    • The real mission creep isn't these cameras. It is the license plates themselves. License plates should never have been designed. Their only purpose was to be a loophole for "unreasonable searches" since they are in public view
      .

      The history of the license plate:

      In The Hound of the Baskervilles [1902] by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are found unsuccessfully trying to catch a public hansom cab. Holmes, however, got close enough to the cab to spot its license number, which became a

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by socsoc (1116769)
      Plates may have been for proof of registration, but I'd gather the tags are more for that... anyway I hate to break it to you, but your house has an publicly identifiable number on it too, most likely on the front in 5 inch tall numbers.

      One huge difference is that you can't drive your house away from the scene of a crime.
  • Efficiency. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster (602015) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @08:53PM (#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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by garcia (6573)

      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 offic

    • by Ichijo (607641)

      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. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mixmatch (957776) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @10:13PM (#24452477) Homepage
        Certainly, but what is more efficient, investing $25k on a device, plus man hours, to catch people with minor infractions and go through all the paperwork involved in forcing compliance, or managing those cases in the traditional manner (probably a letter to the residence of the owner), and focusing on other, perhaps more pertinent issues? I would argue that the OP is not saying that improved efficiency is bad, but rather that "Mindless" attempts that involve the assumption that the more technological solution is the more efficient one are counterproductive.
  • 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

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Iphtashu Fitz (263795)

      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.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:03PM (#24452025)

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

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mfnickster (182520)

      I'm tired of people driving like murderers

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

    • by plasmacutter (901737) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:17PM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        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.

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

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by loraksus (171574)

          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: (Score:3, Informative)

          by plasmacutter (901737)

          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: (Score:3, Informative)

          by nabsltd (1313397)

          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 c

      • by Cheerio Boy (82178) * on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:33PM (#24452223) Homepage Journal
        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: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by plasmacutter (901737)

          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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mosb1000 (710161)

      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.

  • by Iphtashu Fitz (263795) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @08:59PM (#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....

    • by thorndt (814642)
      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: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by DaedalusHKX (660194)

        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 hun

    • 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?
  • 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.
  • by thirty-seven (568076) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:07PM (#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.

  • Concerning (Score:4, Interesting)

    by EdIII (1114411) * on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:18PM (#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

  • by plasmacutter (901737) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:21PM (#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.

    • by Kohath (38547) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:39PM (#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.

  • 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?
  • by Animaether (411575) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:35PM (#24452245) Journal

    ...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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BLKMGK (34057)

      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 w

  • Virtual Papers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:43PM (#24452303) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • by linuxwrangler (582055) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:52PM (#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.

  • by PPH (736903) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:54PM (#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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by pentalive (449155)

      "Supermarket A" did this to "Supermarket B" a few years ago, sent someone over to write down all the plate numbers in the lot, then sent all the people "Supermarket A" fliers and coupons.

      (Names have been changes because I don't remember who Supermarket A or Supermarket B actually were)

  • CAPTCHA (Score:3, Funny)

    by Lank (19922) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @10:11PM (#24452467)

    All in favor of CAPTCHA license plates raise your hands...

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @10:18PM (#24452499)
    ... that privacy laws were intended to prevent. The potential for abuse is VASTLY higher than any possible good these things could do.

    Get rid of them.
  • I got caught... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Datamonstar (845886) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:23PM (#24452925)
    ... on camera going through an intersection on a red that I either did not see or acknowledge and I got sent a "ticket" in the mail. It's only a "ticket" because it actually says on the back of the ticket that no driving record marks or arrest warrants would result from the non-payment of the citation. And it's from a third party company, NOT the local or state government. You can be sure I was pissed when I discovered that some company I never heard of was handling this instead of law enforcement. The only real official figment it bore was the name of the policeman who is handling the citation. That must be one hell of an easy job.

    To go to court and and fight it would cost 100$, but the citation itself is only 75$. I thought about taking it to court and fighting it on the grounds that the burden of proof rests upon the company who maintains the camera and data to PROVE that the data had not been altered. I'd basically argue that without that proof, once my car had been photographed just once there would be little that could be done to stop the company from photoshopping my car into an intersection during a red light whenever they wanted to and claiming that it was me who ran the red light. I'm sure there's some violation of rights existing somewhere in the laws that govern this, I just don't have 175$ or the desire to go to court and try to find it. Besides it doesn't matter because the ONLY repercussion that will result in not paying the "ticket" is that the price goes up by 25$ once and then it goes against my credit rating. How the hell can they do that to begin with? That's yet another WTF.

    I'd really like to see this sort of thing busted wide open as unconstitutional until there's some checks to make sure the ones handling the data is responsible.
  • One problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sniper98G (1078397) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:34PM (#24452999)

    Once car thieves catch on to this they can start carrying a clean plate with them. I doubt the reader can tell what kind of car the plate is on and determine if that is the right kind of vehicle like an officer doing the check could.

    So in the long run this will not be used to combat car thieves; it will target mostly law abiding citizens who just screwed up.

  • Nothing to hide? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Something Witty Here (906670) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:59PM (#24453129)
    >> Why is everyone so petrified of being accountable for their actions these days?

    Obviously you have never been accused of doing something that you didn't do.

    > Living in Texas (and yes, I like it here, even though it was 105 today) > there are more than a fair share of illegal immigrants on our roadways. > Many of them downright suck at driving. Most of them don't have insurance.

    Build a fence. Post armed guards.

    Outsource to Mexico instead of China, so they will have paying jobs at home and aren't tempted to try and get past the armed guards.

    > 3. What do I have to hide? Who cares where I go, or how I get there

    Your vehicle was recorded as being near the scene of some horrible crime. Can you prove you didn't commit said horrible crime? No? Off to jail with you.

    > Your location in a public place is

    No one's business. It is not even remotely reasonable to suggest that we must stay home 24x7 with blinds drawn.

  • abuse (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pxlmusic (1147117) <pxlent@gmail.com> on Sunday August 03, 2008 @12:21AM (#24453229) Homepage

    the cops can always *find* a reason to stop/ticket you.

    if you don't think so, stick around. the "i have nothing to hide" argument bears out to be no good reason.

    anyone given this kind of power (see the police) will find some way to abuse it to their own ends -- and often get away with it.

  • by clafortefeelingsoftw (921294) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @12:47AM (#24453343)
    My wife was arrested using one of these devices. The police in Montreal is testing this technology, they plan to install it on a hundred cars by the end of the year. After speaking with the police, it's clear that this technology won't affect real criminals, it will only catch honest people like my wife. I posted the story and technical details on my blog: http://www.enlighten3d.com/2008/08/03/a-computer-vision-system-arrested-my-wife/ [enlighten3d.com]
  • Compare to the UK... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Beowulf878 (1304661) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @05:01AM (#24454459)
    I live in London, and its hilarious to compare the level of spying.

    Here, We have "congestion charge cameras" that record every single car's numberplate in every single street (where there is no "congestion charge" they call them "autoreaders" - they are on all the motorwars, bridges, & who knows where else...): apart from this, all of central London and most public places within the M25 are covered - very extensively - by CCTV.

    Furthermore, the public transport is paid for by using a ticket in the form of an electronic, registered-to-your-home-address "oyster card" which again monitors everywhere you go.

    The mobile phones you carry have - by law - every single phone-call and text recorded for the government: this same law covers email and the data is available not just to MI5 & MI6, not even just to the police - but "social workers" and "local government workers" have access to it.

    In short, depending on the study you choose the average Londoner is recorded on CCTV 200-450 times per day, their mobile is continously tapped (remember when people used to need a warrant? haha...) and their car is under observation all of the time...

    Compare that with only when a police car is passing...

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