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Repo Men Using New Technology To Track Cars 222

Posted by kdawson
from the more-you-drive-the-less-intelligent-you-are dept.
kamapuaa writes "The NY Times has an article about how real-time license plate scanning is changing the car repo business. MVTRAC is one of several companies providing technology to track car license plates automatically, in order to populate private databases. This new tech is used by car repo companies to help banks or other lenders repossess cars; by police to find stolen cars or to locate ticket scofflaws; or really for whatever application MVTRAC and its competitors feel like pursuing, as the new-found industry lacks any kind of government oversight."
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Repo Men Using New Technology To Track Cars

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  • by dfetter (2035) <david@fetter.org> on Saturday February 27, 2010 @06:09PM (#31300358) Homepage Journal

    ...for stalkers.

    Time to ban!

  • by ak_hepcat (468765) <<leif> <at> <denali.net>> on Saturday February 27, 2010 @06:12PM (#31300376) Homepage Journal

    find my internet girlfriend?

    she said she went to school yesterday, but my best friend Mike who says he's in her class didn't see her at all, and that she hasn't taught class all week..

  • As a "nosy citizen with enough cash," I have been waiting to find out if the mayor is having an affair [slashdot.org] by tracking his plates. The ACLU doesn't like it [slashdot.org] but nobody cares [slashdot.org]. Or do they? [slashdot.org]
    • Dr Zoidberg: Hey, look, everybody! It's a Slashdot trifecta! That place knows everything ... perhaps too much?
  • Plate scanning systems are just a fast way to do what repo folks have been doing for years. They still need to verify the VIN, and in some areas present Claim and Delivery paperwork to repo a vehicle.

    Lots of car buyers try to rip off dealers, and instead of working out payments (most dealers would rather have incoming money than a car sitting on the lot) they disappear with the car.

    Plate scanners also offer a way to catch uninsured drivers (= "people who don't care if they can pay for the damage they cause

  • by BigFire (13822) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @06:29PM (#31300488)

    "The life of a repo man is always intense."

  • by weston (16146) <westonsd AT canncentral DOT org> on Saturday February 27, 2010 @06:30PM (#31300496) Homepage

    I've long said that we'll lose our privacy to business before we lose it to a totalitarian state. It's pretty obvious that under a laissez-faire system some parties will happily sell information about anyone to other parties public and private who are interested in being Big Brother for reasons of power or profit.

    This is happening now with license plates. It's starting to happen with human image recognition, and will likely be pervasive in our lifetimes. It'll start with systems like this, it'll grow through systems in retail establishments -- some enterprising business will pitch them on the idea "Wouldn't it be great if you knew *who* was coming into your store? Let us set you up with a system that not only records and manages your video, but actually cross-references it with an image/identity database." They'll sell it to consumers, too: "Wouldn't it be great if you knew who was coming to your door? Who secondhand guests at your party are?" And now that we have social networks, it'll be even *easier* to bootstrap with a corpus of social tagged photos which are available to, say, anybody who sings up for the Facebook development platform. And of course, they'll eventually make a deal to share data with local, state, and federal governments. Or if that's technically illegal, with the contractors said government outsource photo surveillance functions to.

    And you'll need one hell of a disguise something like a Philip Dick's scramble suit in order to move around society anonymously... if such a thing can actually disguise your identifying gesture and movement habits successfully. If you can come up with something that isn't clearly a disguise that would make people suspicious. If such a thing is even allowed by retailers and citizens who *like* knowing who's coming to their door. If they're not illegal in some way, whether by statute or sheer fact that even wearing one looks like probable cause for suspicion to the police.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jklovanc (1603149)

      Anything that can be legally done by a person can be legally done by a computer.

      For example, when I walk into a small store the shop keeper may do the following; scan my face, match that face to my name, remember what I have purchased, greet me by name and suggest similar items and sale items. Just because some of those steps are done by machine does not bother me. Now if all that information was posted on the internet that would be a problem.

      I have no assumption of privacy if I walk into a store that I hav

      • Not only are the incentives to collect and sell this information already present in the system, arguments such as yours will be convincing to a significant portion of the population and in the framework of the existing legal system. People might *say* they want privacy, but a lot of them aren't willing to pull on the other end of policy/rights/philosophy which are tension with it.

        That's why I say this *will* happen. The only alternative is significant and nuanced new laws accompanied with public oversight.

    • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Saturday February 27, 2010 @07:27PM (#31300874)

      I've long said that we'll lose our privacy to business before we lose it to a totalitarian state.

      And you'd be wrong, but not by much. We're losing our privacy because because both of those entities have been sleeping together. As Benito Mussolini pointed out:

      Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power

      That's where we're headed.

      • by weston (16146) <westonsd AT canncentral DOT org> on Saturday February 27, 2010 @07:37PM (#31300932) Homepage

        And you'd be wrong, but not by much.

        Though this is nitpicking, I have to object. Despite some serious erosion of privacy protections on the civil front over the last few decades, we're not really there: the State doesn't yet have the apparatus for mass-tracking for even telecom. They know they're technically forbidden to have a lot of this stuff, which is why they largely rely on large powerful private entities or agreements with foreign states for the go-to.

        But this:

        We're losing our privacy because because both of those entities have been sleeping together.

        Is true enough indeed. And it gets worse over time because the amount of power in private hands keeps growing. And there's no other way to check private power other than with public power driven by large-scale civic participation. And we don't really do that anymore, or, if a lot of the recent anti-government populism is any indication, really believe at all in the idea of public power checking private power anymore. So it's down the path we go.

        • Despite some serious erosion of privacy protections on the civil front over the last few decades, we're not really there

          True, but we're both talking about a possible future. You're right, we're not there yet, but there are plenty of people in big government that would very much like us to be.

        • by bendodge (998616)

          And there's no other way to check private power other than with public power driven by large-scale civic participation. And we don't really do that anymore, or, if a lot of the recent anti-government populism is any indication, really believe at all in the idea of public power checking private power anymore.

          So the lack of civic participation is the problem, and the recent spate of Tea Parties and similar movements aren't civic participation? This sounds like a weird sort of oxymoron.

          • by winwar (114053)

            "...and the recent spate of Tea Parties and similar movements aren't civic participation?"

            No they aren't. The key here is "civic", implying a large group of informed, educated and motivated citizens actively involved in government. The tea party members are largely uneducated, uniformed anti-government populists who are very good at saying "no" and "x is bad" and want to apply simple solutions to complex problems. They are precisely the type of group that will make things WORSE because they are easily ma

  • From a legal standpoint there is nothing wrong with this. The fact that a vehicle with a certain license number is at a certain location is public information and there is no reasonable assumption of privacy. Anyone walking down the street can gather this information. The use of vehicles and tag scanners just makes it faster. If they were logging license numbers of vehicles in locked garages, private property not visible from the street, etc then there would be an issue as there is an assumption of privacy

    • by Vellmont (569020) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @07:23PM (#31300846) Homepage


      The use of public information and technology to catch deadbeats and lawbreakers is not a bad thing.

      How about other "bad" people? My new Bar Watcher service will tell you if your loved one is at one of 30 local area bars. For only $10 a search we'll give you time, location, and duration. For an annual subscription of only $100 we'll send you a text message every time we see your loved ones car (or one of his friends cars) at the local bars. Sign up now! *

      We also have our gamblers search! Same service, for all the local Casinos!

      *(service not available for elected officials, law enforcement officers, or judges by state law)

    • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @07:30PM (#31300898)

      From a legal standpoint there is nothing wrong with this.

      Well, its about damn time that the legal standpoint changed. Technology has changed and the laws need to catch up. At one point we didn't even have license plates, the law changed because there was a need for something like them and at the time the balance of pros versus cons tilted towards the pro side. New technology has changed that balance towards the con side and the law needs to change with it.

      • The question, though, is just how should the law be changed. We can't just prohibit the collection of data in general. We can't just prohibit the selling of collections of data. Things like HIPAA protect medical records. Should we have individual laws that target particular types of data as illegal to distribute? That seems very complex and cumbersome to me.

        I think there are few people who are unconcerned with the direction that these data collections are taking us. It is easy to see how this can be a

        • I think Europe set a pretty good example until the US started punching holes in it in the name of terrorism. In a nutshell, EU privacy laws prevented anyone from putting together a database without getting the consent of the people who's information was in the database - and none of the typical american cop-out of "in order to do any business with us in any way you consent to being fully abused." Sure, some companies bitched-and-moaned about it being anti-business, but they seemed to do business just fine

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ScrewMaster (602015) *

      From a legal standpoint there is nothing wrong with this.

      There isn't? I think we need some actual legal advice here.

      The use of vehicles and tag scanners just makes it faster.

      Which is problematic in itself.

      All it does is allows more organizations access to the same database of vehicle locations.

      Even more of a problem. Data is power in the modern world, and any time power is concentrated sufficiently it becomes a liability. You need look no further than Experian, Equifax and Transunion to realize just how dangerous this can be. Hell, a couple of credit cards I've owned since the Internet went public have suffered security breaches, and I got hit with several thousand dollars in charges. They took them off ...

    • The fact that a vehicle with a certain license number is at a certain location is public information and there is no reasonable assumption of privacy. Anyone walking down the street can gather this information.

      Agreed. However, the fact that the certain license number is linked to an actual human being is where the privacy part comes in. You can certainly walk down the street and collect license plate numbers all day long if your little heart so desires.

  • ...if it is legal to mount your license plate upside down -- and whether it would fool such systems.

  • The faster the recovery of stolen property (including the lender-owned vehicles driven by deadbeats), the better.

    In the typical theft, the shorter times reduces the chance, the car will be destroyed by the either by the thief — and increases the likelihood of his getting caught. In the lender-deadbeat case, it is good as it reduces the lenders' costs, allowing them to give a slightly better deal to the rest of us, who pay on time...

    Efficient and effective law-enforcement is a good thing, generally

  • How many more examples do people need before realizing that giving the state the power to force people into compulsory handing over of their privacy GUARANTEES that privacy, freedom, and security will be lost. Stop with the collectivist/slave mentality. Read the laws for your state regarding cars, you will be surprised to learned that they only apply to commercial activities, not to individuals traveling from point to point.
  • What is to stop members of the public from setting up a distributed license-plate tracking system, to say, track politicians and government officials, and make said information public?

    If you can't beat em, at least make it so they can't make any money doing it.

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