Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Australia Privacy Transportation Your Rights Online

Global Mall Operator Starts Reading License Plates 301

Posted by timothy
from the well-aren't-you-lucky? dept.
First time accepted submitter skegg writes "Westfield Group, one of the largest shopping centre (mall) operators in the world, has launched a find-my-car iPhone app. The system uses a series of license plate reading cameras dotted throughout their multi-level car parks. Westfield said police could also use it to find stolen or unregistered vehicles. (Hello, slippery slope.) Initially launched in just one Sydney centre, it will be rolled-out to others if the trial is successful."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Global Mall Operator Starts Reading License Plates

Comments Filter:
  • Slippery slope? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nidi62 (1525137) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @11:14PM (#37365654)
    How is this a slippery slope? The cars are parked in a public place, with license plates easily viewable. There is no expectation of privacy in this case.
    • Re:Slippery slope? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MalleusEBHC (597600) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @11:24PM (#37365698)

      While there is no expectation of privacy in public, there is a huge practical difference between automated tracking systems and manpower surveillance. A few well placed cameras could track as many cars as thousands of people could.

      Besides the law enforcement slippery slope, what about the commercial privacy concerns? It's not a stretch that such a system could be used to track how long you spend at the mall and where you went, especially if it were combined with a facial recognition system inside the mall. I know some of this is already possible just by tracking credit card purchases, but opening up yet another more invasive avenue for data collection is not something I welcome.

      • by Nidi62 (1525137)
        Your second point is easily solved: don't park in their deck. You can always park in the lot of one of those little strip shopping centers that always surround malls, and simply walk across the street. Consider it as an opt-out.
        • It's not a true "opt-out" unless the mall cops grab your groin or strip search you.

        • Re:Slippery slope? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Sunday September 11, 2011 @01:37AM (#37366200) Homepage Journal

          The thing is, you accept that surveillance is acceptable, and normal. Some of us do not. It is none of the police department's business where I go, what I do, who I see, or how long I might meet with any person. None of their business. Basically, widespread surveillance relieves the police of doing real police work.

          I can justify surveillance inside of a business place that is commonly subject to armed robbery and/or shoplifting. I cannot justify surveillance of public streets, parking logs, and business places that aren't commonly targeted by thieves.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by drinkypoo (153816)

            The thing is, you accept that surveillance is acceptable, and normal.

            Accepting reality is a sign of sanity and intelligence.

            Some of us do not.

            The converse is also true.

            It is none of the police department's business where I go, what I do, who I see, or how long I might meet with any person. None of their business. Basically, widespread surveillance relieves the police of doing real police work.

            No, no it doesn't, because in and of itself that should not be enough to convict you of anything. Also, this is not the police knowing where you are, but a mall knowing where you are. You're on their property and they want to be able to find your car. I personally want Trek-esque location services in my house... you know, "computer, locate Runaway1956." And if you don't like me knowing what room you're in, don't come into my ho

        • by tlhIngan (30335)

          Your second point is easily solved: don't park in their deck. You can always park in the lot of one of those little strip shopping centers that always surround malls, and simply walk across the street. Consider it as an opt-out.

          Or take transit. or...

          Just because most people drive their cars to the mall doesn't mean you have to. If you live close enough, perhaps walking is an option (especially if you work nearby). If a bit further, there's always public transit, or biking. (Malls are generally transit hubs,

          • by AK Marc (707885)

            Or not use the mall - there's no law stating one must spend a day shopping in a mall.

            What good are rights if you can't exercise them without being a billionaire (the one who owns the mall)? Libertarianism - the push for the return to the good ol' days when rights were restricted to landowners (and only men could own land).

      • by ross.w (87751)
        There is a disconnect between the mall and the RTA who keep the licencing data. I'm pretty sure the NSW RTA will only hand over someones details if you intend to make a complaint. They won't do it to make your marketing easier. If that were not the case THAT would be good case for protest.
        • by deniable (76198)
          Come to Western Australia where public servants got busted selling licensing data to a parking operator. Then again, our police got caught random breath testing / license checking empty cars at shopping centres.
      • by Dthief (1700318)
        I think you also forget that license plates are just large lettered ID tags for your car, someone using that very public, very easy to see information intelligently seems quite reasonable.

        I'd be curious to know how people in the UK feel about the congestion fee toll which also can essentially know when your car was at certain places.

        • Wonder if it would be legal to cover your plate when it is parked. I don't recall any requirement that your plate me visible when you weren't operating it. Otherwise it would be illegal to use car covers and such.

          • by gd2shoe (747932)
            Doubt it. It probably varies by jurisdiction, but here (northern CA) you can get in trouble for parking on the street with out of date registration tags. Not sure how that translates to parking garages...
          • More to the point is it legal to cover your plate while on private Westfield property? If I make a device to do this can I be booked for potentially covering my plate while on public roads?

        • by Plunky (929104)

          I'd be curious to know how people in the UK feel about the congestion fee toll which also can essentially know when your car was at certain places.

          You'd probably be more curious to know how people in the UK feel about the automatic number plate recognition [wikipedia.org] cameras that are installed all over the country which already essentially know when your car was at certain places, and the data is available in real time to the police.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        Plus it sounds like this data will be publicly available. How do they plan to ensure that you are the rightful owner of a car and not just someone who waits until you park your car a long way from home and then steals all your stuff safe in the knowledge that you won't be back any time soon? Or that you are not the abusive husband who wants to keep tabs on his wife's movements? Or the employer who wants to make sure his staff are not interviewing with competitors, or visiting hospital?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by RobinEggs (1453925)
      Seriously. Cars, their registrations, and the license to drive them all involve no reasonable expectations or implicit rights to privacy whatsoever (the contents of cars are obviously a different issue).

      Cars are extremely expensive in multiple ways, for the individual, the society, and the human race at large; they're statistically more dangerous than all weapons, wars, and natural disasters put together; they're a million different costs and dangers in addition to their many obvious conveniences.

      Yet pe
      • by epyT-R (613989)

        so when some entity uses said information about your car to back you into a corner, you're a-ok with that?

        you're cherry picking statistics which is a red flag indicator for someone who'd rather push his favorite social agenda than speak the complete truth. there are LOTS of things which are 'extremely expensive in multiple ways, for the individual, the society, and the human race at large.' that doesn't justify being treated like criminals.

        • And hypothetical complaints about a mysterious, nefarious "some entity" using the system to "back me into a corner" isn't pushing some sort of agenda?

          Not all surrender of privacy and anonymity amounts to being treated like a criminal; not all systems will inevitably and automatically be used in most seditious, conspiracy-oriented ways.

          The "complete truth" you want me to speak is not an objective, independent truth; it's a personal, hypothetical fear of yours, and every bit as much of an "agenda" as what
          • by causality (777677)

            And hypothetical complaints about a mysterious, nefarious "some entity" using the system to "back me into a corner" isn't pushing some sort of agenda? Not all surrender of privacy and anonymity amounts to being treated like a criminal; not all systems will inevitably and automatically be used in most seditious, conspiracy-oriented ways. The "complete truth" you want me to speak is not an objective, independent truth; it's a personal, hypothetical fear of yours, and every bit as much of an "agenda" as what I'm talking about.

            How do you continue to justify this system in the face of facts which are very clear and objective: we as a species have managed to survive without this, and shopping malls have continued to be relatively safe and profitable places of business for all of this time without such systems? In light of this, why do you think the risks are worthwhile and should be disregarded?

            I say the burden of proof is on the person who supports new methods of tracking people. The sane default isn't "why not?", it's "why?"

            • If you read what I've written I'm not actually justifying this system at all; my point all along has been more general than that. I simply believe that cars aren't a strictly private, strictly personal possession and I'm tired of people pretending that they are. Cars physically interconnect all our lives and, with their massive fiscal and environmental costs, they directly connect all of our destinies, as well. Our entire lives, at least in the US, are designed around then. I'm not arguing for the abolition
              • by epyT-R (613989)

                I don't see anyone claiming they're in a vacuum here. you proceeded from a false assumption so you could launch a tirade at a strawman - the contextually driven implication being that resistance to being tracked by car = irrational idiot. Also, you can make all those arguments you listed for just about anything.. Apparently the only way to keep people like yourself happy is to preemptively lock everyone into concrete dorms from cradle to grave so that no one ever does anything self-serving that somehow 'h

              • Cars physically interconnect all our lives and, with their massive fiscal and environmental costs, they directly connect all of our destinies, as well. Our entire lives, at least in the US, are designed around then. ... They're a public good, not a private right.

                That exact same argument can be made about houses, only more so. I think you would have a hell of a time arguing that houses are a public good. [wikimedia.org]

          • by epyT-R (613989)

            I have no ulterior motive other than to protect myself from public and private organizations that have known track records for collecting information about people and placing it in warchests for future conflicts.

            Not all surrender of privacy and anonymity amounts to being treated like a criminal; not all systems will inevitably and automatically be used in most seditious, conspiracy-oriented ways.

            Never said this.. However, that's the current trend nowadays. This is accelerating due to nonlinear increases in technical capability over time. Do you really want law enforced by machine augmented bureaucracies?

            The "complete truth" you want me to speak is not an objective, independent truth; it's a personal, hypothetical fear of yours, and every bit as much of an "agenda" as what I'm talking about.

            a lot more objective evidence supports mine than it does yours. your hypothetical fea

      • I'm not claiming there's no legitimate reason for the public to want to track a vehicle.... but honestly, that's probably one of the best (only?) really solid arguments for demanding license plates on them. Without plates as unique identifiers, it's difficult to determine exactly which vehicle was used in a crime committed against you. If you say "A guy driving a late model blue Ford truck ran me off the road and drove off!" or what-not, that's not really good enough. And obviously, the VIN number isn't

    • Re:Slippery slope? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nmb3000 (741169) <nmb3000@that-google-mail-site.com> on Saturday September 10, 2011 @11:34PM (#37365736) Homepage Journal

      How is this a slippery slope? The cars are parked in a public place, with license plates easily viewable. There is no expectation of privacy in this case.

      I believe the slippery slope the submitter is referring to is the widespread dissemination of license plate reading cameras. As with most technologies, it can be used for both good and ill.

      For example, it can be a convenience. This article is one example (helping people find their cars). Another is for controlled-access areas such as the university I attend. They recently switched from a RFID-style windshield sticker to these license plate cameras, claiming it will be faster to open the gates (false), that it would be less prone to failure (also false).

      The slippery part of these devices is that it's all to easy to re-purpose them. Very soon after installing the cameras at the controlled-access gates my university started mounting them on curbside free-standing poles all over campus. It is almost impossible to drive through campus (which I acknowledge is private property) without having your plate scanned. I'm sure this has somehow been sold as "keeping campus safe." Of course, what it really is, is a waste of money and an erosion of privacy.

      The same type of scenario could easily happen over an entire city once this technology becomes common enough. Pretty soon there's enough coverage that law enforcement (or anyone else, for that matter) might be able to pay for (or coerce via legislation) private owners to give them access to the data. Now "criminals" can be caught by simply driving past that Chevron station on the corner and detailed data mining of your personal travel habits is effortless and completely legal. The entire vehicle-owning public is suddenly under constant, real-time surveillance.

      I realize there is limited expectation of privacy in public places, and that license plates are easily visible on the outside of your vehicle. That doesn't change that this is an erosion of privacy. Just as stalking a person all over a city isn't legal, doing effectively the same thing via electronic means shouldn't be either (without a valid warrant).

      </tinfoil hat>

      • Re:Slippery slope? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Sunday September 11, 2011 @12:26AM (#37365980)

        Very soon after installing the cameras at the controlled-access gates my university started mounting them on curbside free-standing poles all over campus. It is almost impossible to drive through campus (which I acknowledge is private property) without having your plate scanned.

        If it is private property, you have no legal requirement to display your license plate. I'd very much like to purchase a license-plate obscurer that could be hooked up to a GPS unit so that it would automatically cover up my plate as I left the public roads for a parking-lot or wherever.

        FWIW, I read a couple of years back that Target was surreptitiously deploying such ANPR cameras to all of their parking lots. I can't easily dig up the article via google because, as you might imagine, "target" is way too generic of a search term, however "Target CSI" yields some related info that is disturbing.

      • by julesh (229690)

        They recently switched from a RFID-style windshield sticker to these license plate cameras, claiming it will be faster to open the gates (false)

        It really ought to be true. I worked on a system like this nearly 10 years ago now that was capable of reliably identifying 2 vehicles per second while they passed a camera mounted approximately 50 metres from the road at speeds of up to 70mph. There's no reason the system shouldn't identify your vehicle before you've even stopped at the gate, and start opening while you're approaching, which is substantially better performance than most RFID systems (which tend to have operation ranges of a couple of met

    • Re:Slippery slope? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Belial6 (794905) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @11:52PM (#37365834)
      Yes, there IS an expectation of privacy. It is privacy through obscurity. When I am in a crowd of 100,000, I very reasonably expect to be LESS trackable than when I am sitting in my home alone. Pretty much every single person on the planet also has this expectation. They don't expect to have the person next to them not see them, but they do expect that anyone that knows them, or is investigating them will not see them.

      The meme of "Your is public, so have no expectation of privacy" is entirely false, and repeating it doesn't make it true.
      • Yes, there IS an expectation of privacy. It is privacy through obscurity. When I am in a crowd of 100,000, I very reasonably expect to be LESS trackable than when I am sitting in my home alone. Pretty much every single person on the planet also has this expectation.

        All these expectations are not set in stone, but are rather defined by what's feasible and what's not, and that changes as society evolves and technology progresses. Back when we had small towns instead of huge million-people citizes, one's expectations of privacy were much lower. They've got higher as we've got higher concentrations of people, and now they're getting lower again as technology is catching up and replacing simple observation as the way to track people.

        And I don't know about "pretty much ever

        • All these expectations are not set in stone,

          No, they are set in law. In Australia we have privacy/data-collection laws. Using collected data for a purpose that the customer didn't authorise, or reasonably expect, or giving the data to a third party (including law enforcement without a court-order), is against that law.

          To be honest, I'm not sure how an automated system is going to comply with the law. There's no way to get the initial consent. (Merely driving into a carpark would not be considered reasonable consent under the law.)

          • Westfield Doncaster only has paid parking. Maybe the argument is that you become a customer when you take a ticket to enter the car park, and tracking you from then on is the same as tracking you at the cash register. And then you validate your parking ticket at the cash register and now your registration number is connected to your credit card number...

    • Re:Slippery slope? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 10, 2011 @11:58PM (#37365864)

      ah, the legal apologist. to them, as long as it's legal, it's moral, just, and completely harmless to the freedoms and civil rights of citizens. as we all know, the legal system in this country (and others) is completely flawless when it comes to social justice and health of the human psyche. there are no psychopaths at the top manipulating the whole mess to their advantage by passing laws which are psychologically and sociologically unhealthy for individuals as well as society at large.

      case in point, there's a big fucking difference between no expectation of privacy, and having your license plate number used to track your every move from place to place. yes, there IS a slippery slope here.. it starts with the parent companies which push their surveillance policies out to the rest.. eventually, the government just mandates it everywhere .

    • Re:Slippery slope? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Sunday September 11, 2011 @12:17AM (#37365944)

      The cars are parked in a public place, with license plates easily viewable. There is no expectation of privacy in this case.

      Ah, but there [i]is[/i] an expectation of privacy.

      The general population does not expect that the mere act of going shopping will cause the date, location and duration of such normal activities to be permanently recorded by a large, well-funded organization in a database with practically no access controls.

      Furthermore, the american jurisprudence (Katz v United States) which established the concept of "no privacy in public spaces" was written in 1967 - a time when wide-spread surveillance and, more importantly, essentially infinite-sized databases were only the stuff of science fiction.

      Technology has progressed and the law needs to catch up.

      • Should it be illegal for me to record the plates of cars going by my house or business? Why or why not?

        • by dbet (1607261)
          Should it be illegal? It should be fine if you write down stuff on a notepad and keep it to yourself. If you publish the info or make it available to anyone else, you should spend time in jail.

          The same was true (may still be) of people who used scanners to hear neighbor's wireless phone calls. It was legal to use a scanner, it was illegal to share anything you heard.

          Else one could say, record every car that parked at planned parenthood and share the info, or worse, threaten to share it unless payments
    • by iamhassi (659463)

      How is this a slippery slope?

      It's a slippery slope because I can use it to find out my wife is still at the mall and I can slippery slope my way to my favorite websites.

      I, for one, welcome our new wife monitoring systems.

    • by johny42 (1087173)

      The cars are parked in a public place,

      It's not even a public place, it's their private place. I don't see any problem with them tracking their customers, as long as they're on their property. If you don't like it (I don't), just don't shop (or don't park your car) there.

  • by Skarecrow77 (1714214) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @11:17PM (#37365674)

    1. At least remember what vague part of the lot you parked in. That will help.

    2. (to actually be done before step 1) Purchase and place one of those antenna ball things, a fairly uncommon one in a striking color (yellow, orange, or neon pink all work well), and look for that.

    Assuming you didn't park next to a van or an H2, that thing should stick out like a sore thumb.

    My wife's old car had a bright yellow winnie-the-pooh antenna ball and that thing was always easy to spot no matter how crowded the lot.

    • Thanks for the tip. (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm thinking if you're too irresponsible to remember where you left one of your most valuable possessions that you are also too irresponsible to be trusted with the use of that possession.

    • by Dachannien (617929) on Sunday September 11, 2011 @12:01AM (#37365878)

      2. (to actually be done before step 1) Purchase and place one of those antenna ball things, a fairly uncommon one in a striking color (yellow, orange, or neon pink all work well), and look for that.

      This is a great idea, and I hope everyone follows your advice.

      Everyone.

  • by molo (94384) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @11:32PM (#37365728) Journal

    Westfield also operates dozens of malls in the US and a number in New Zealand as well. See this list on wikipedia [wikipedia.org].

    -molo

  • This is not news (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dan B. (20610) <slashdot@bryar.co m . au> on Saturday September 10, 2011 @11:34PM (#37365732) Homepage

    While the iDevice app maybe new, the camera-in-car-park scenario has been operating in at least one place that I know (and use) quite frequently; Brisbane Airport.

    When you drive in, it images and OCRs your plate at the boom-gate, printing your rego on the ticket. Each car park has a camera pointed at it with a large multi colour light that reads - Red; park occupied, Green; park vacant, and Blue; park about to be vacated. When you pay for/validate your ticket, the light above your car goes from red to blue, and as soon as you pull out, it flicks to green.

    I'm all for this tech, it makes park hunting so much easier, plus you would be amazed at the number of stolen cars that are stolen for the express purpose of the criminal driving it to their destination (such as the airport or shopping centre) with no intention of doing anything with the car other than avoiding a taxi fare. Thousands of stolen cars are recovered from parking lots each year, undamaged and usually, unlocked!

    • by epyT-R (613989)

      that convenience > abuse potential attitude will end up enslaving us all, a little bit at a time..

  • by millsey (1987618) on Sunday September 11, 2011 @12:03AM (#37365888)
    Use the app at the touch of your fingertips to see if your neighbor is out and take what you want!
  • by schwit1 (797399) on Sunday September 11, 2011 @12:30AM (#37366002)

    As I read it the mall folks have no access to owner data. This makes the data little different than tracking make/model/color/year. My question is how long do they keep the tag data?

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Sunday September 11, 2011 @12:46AM (#37366070)

    While everyone goes on about loss of privacy, the biggest problem I see is this:

    If you cannot generally remember where you put your car, how are you going to remember the random cryptic string of digits that is your license plate to look up your car on this system?

    For better or worse, it does seem like the system may be much more helpful to police than visitors.

    • If you cannot generally remember where you put your car, how are you going to remember the random cryptic string of digits that is your license plate to look up your car on this system?

      You're asking how can you remember something that's always constant when you occasionally forget something that's always variable?

      Do you know when your birthday is? Do you know what day of the week it fell on in 1993?

  • We hide grandpa's Cadillac for a reason.

  • I'm actually surprised there is no android/iphone app that lets you put your phone on the dash and it snaps license plates as you drive. Why should big brother be in the hands of big brother? Let's crowdsource it and figure out where all federal plates, state plates, police, etc are on a regular basis. Altho it would be a stalker's dream app but if the feds are watching us, let's watch back.
    • by wdef (1050680)
      I suspect that Apple would reject such an app. They won't allow the breath testing or speeding cop locator apps in the App Store will they?
  • Since we are talking iPhones here, I think they all have gps's in them.

    You could have an app that records where you left your car at. Either by pressing a button that says something like "Remember this location", so later, you can use the same app to find your way back to that location.

    For the lazy, you could have it keep track of where you are, and where you been at all times, so you can retrace your steps even easier.

    but no, the best solution is probably spending billions of dollars on special license pl

  • by Kr3m3Puff (413047) * <me.kitsonkelly@com> on Sunday September 11, 2011 @02:37AM (#37366374) Homepage Journal

    Number plate reading cameras in public car parks have been around in the UK for a number of years and the government hands for even longer. Any time spent in London your vehicle will be scanned both publicly and privately. A visit to almost any airport in the UK will result in that and Heathrow Airport has had the "find my car" stuff for quite a while.

    If it is a slippery slope, it is one that is already been in the wild for a long long time. Time to go tilt at some other windmills.

  • Each time you let a corporation or the government have information about what you do or where you go, you're building the fascist society that you so vehemently deny is coming.

    You may have no problem today with having someone else know that you parked in spot a-33 at the mall at 4:33, then you bought dinner for two at the Cheesecake Factory (per your debit / credit) card, then left the parking lot at 5.24. You arrived at the No-tell-hotel at 6:12 and checked into room 163 with your friend and spent 1.2 hour

  • by wdef (1050680) on Sunday September 11, 2011 @04:34AM (#37366656)
    You other Western countries are so behind in Orwellian surveillance. As usual, the UK has already been doing it:

    The UK has an extensive automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) CCTV network. Police and security services use it to track UK vehicle movements in real time. The resulting data are stored for 5 years in the National ANPR Data Centre to be analyzed for intelligence and to be used as evidence.[1]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Police-enforced_ANPR_in_the_UK [wikipedia.org]

    The United Kingdom: Orwell got the year wrong.

    • This, and the fact that toll roads and petrol pumps ("gas stations") have had this kind of technology for years means this should be a total non-story. The only innovation is that they're admitting the police might use the data.

  • If the world of crime were static and unchanging, this would be a damning indictment of the misuse of modern technology. But it's not; criminals use new technology to become more efficient at committing crime.

    To complain about the police using new technology to keep pace with criminals seems, to me, a far more dangerous slippery slope.

    • by wdef (1050680)
      But this example is not a tech race between criminals and police. If the network of plate-reading cameras and the app did not exist in the first place, neither criminals nor cops could (ab)use it.
  • As someone who spends more than a few hours a week at Westfield's Bondi Junction centre, I can tell you more about it.

    1) The technology is from this company [parkassist.com] and the technology is already in use (in varying forms) at US malls. It's primary purpose is to help people find a parking spot quicker and for that it works *very* well.

    2) A downside of the system is that it doesn't seem to record imagery from all the cameras, besides the number-plate data. A friend had her car damaged in the parking lot and was unable

Work is the crab grass in the lawn of life. -- Schulz

Working...