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Whose Cameras Are Watching New York Roads? 376

Posted by timothy
from the hope-it's-the-model-un dept.
NormalVisual writes "License-plate reading cameras are popping up on utility poles all over St. Lawrence County in upstate New York, but no one is willing to say who they belong to. One camera was found by a utility crew, removed from the pole, and given to the local police. 'Massena Police Chief Timmy Currier said he returned it to the owner, but wouldn't say how he knew who the owner was, nor would he say who he gave it to....(Andrew) McMahon, the superintendent at Massena Electric Department, said one of his crews found a box on one of their poles and took it down because "it was in the electric space," the top tier of wires on the pole above the telephone and cable TV wires, and whoever put it there had taken a chance with electrocution. He said they had never received a request or been informed about its placement.'"
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Whose Cameras Are Watching New York Roads?

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  • Treaspassing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @06:47PM (#40196649) Homepage Journal

    If they didn't have authorization from the city/etc then not only were they doing something a bit on the dangerous side, but its also illegal.

    If they did, then its part of the city network anyway and not a huge deal.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Not a huge deal that the city won't acknowledge their existence?
      • Re:Treaspassing (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 02, 2012 @07:35PM (#40197053)
        Your supreme court agrees you have no expectation of privacy on a public road, now shut the hell up and enjoy your "freedom".
        • SCOTUS (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @09:51PM (#40197863)

          But the liberal minority of the court has expressed a willingness to revisit that law, and the court itself is concerned enough with the implications of modern technology that it has actually ruled against GPS-tracking drug dealers for long periods of time.

        • Your supreme court agrees you have no expectation of privacy on a public road, now shut the hell up and enjoy your "freedom".

          Maybe not. But we still have to right to know where the Hell our tax dollars are going. The police may have the "right" to put up those cameras (and that is debatable) but to deny knowledge of the things, or who or what is monitoring them ... well. That simply should not be allowed. Having no expectation of privacy does _not_ mean that anyone can put up a camera on public property.

        • by rsborg (111459)

          Your supreme court agrees you have no expectation of privacy on a public road, now shut the hell up and enjoy your "freedom".

          My right to privacy does not mean that I have no expectation of accountability - especially in terms of city governance, if the city will not avow of the cameras, then how do I know who to impeach or vote out of office in the next election for misuse of funds?

    • Re:Treaspassing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by donaggie03 (769758) <d_osmeyer@hot[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Saturday June 02, 2012 @06:56PM (#40196709)
      What is the point of having these cameras, if not to catch speeders and red-light runners? If those two ARE the point of having these cameras, then people would be receiving citations based on photos from these cameras. So the immediate question that comes to my mind is: are people getting these citations, or not?
      • Re:Treaspassing (Score:5, Insightful)

        by whoever57 (658626) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @07:20PM (#40196927) Journal

        What is the point of having these cameras, if not to catch speeders and red-light runners? If those two ARE the point of having these cameras, then people would be receiving citations based on photos from these cameras.

        My guess would be a three-letter-agency, in the "war on (terror|drugs|communism|whatever)"

        • Well that's my guess too. I just thought it would be less tin-foil-hatty to rule out the possibility that they are being used for less nefarious purposes. The implication being that three-letter-agencies are nefarious.
          • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @09:49PM (#40197853) Journal

            Is this USA that we are talking about?

            Is this USA where the RULE OF LAW takes precedence ?

            Is this the one and only USA where Liberty is everything?

            How come the Americans just sit there and do nothing when some nefarious 3-letter-agencies get to do whatever they want, whenever they want, where-ever they want?

            If you guys in America are really concern of human rights, start to fight for your own human rights !!

            • by Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @09:57PM (#40197893)

              if you fight for your rights, they take you away in the night (its the law... no joke)

            • by sincewhen (640526)

              get to do whatever they want, whenever they want, where-ever they want

              Land of the free.

              They didn't specify who would be free to do what to whom.

            • I used to do that. But I got tired of being thrown in jail for various random charges.

        • Re:Treaspassing (Score:5, Interesting)

          by skids (119237) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @07:29PM (#40197013) Homepage

          My guess would be a three-letter-agency, in the "war on (terror|drugs|communism|whatever)"

          My guess is that it is more commodity than that. What PI wouldn't find the answer to the question "did this car go down this road between these dates" unworthy of a small disbursement from their client's expense account fairly frequently?

        • Re:Treaspassing (Score:5, Informative)

          by guttentag (313541) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @09:22PM (#40197695) Journal
          It's worth noting that Massena is on the Canadian border. All that separates them from Canada is the St Lawrence River, and there's a bridge a few miles east of downtown. If it is the DEA, perhaps they're watching people fill their prescriptions with cheap canadian generics they can't buy in the U.S.

          Massena is also home to a major hydroelectric power dam, three large aluminum plants (two of which are idle) and the Eisenhower lock on the St. Lawrence seaway (any international ships en route to the great lakes have to stop there), so it could be a place of interest for agencies/companies other than the DEA.
        • Re:Treaspassing (Score:5, Interesting)

          by jetole (1242490) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @02:14AM (#40199161)

          My guess would be a three-letter-agency, in the "war on (terror|drugs|communism|whatever)"

          My guess would agree with you because...

          1. 1) If this was a police or city camera, it likely wouldn't have been placed that high up since the lower the camera is, the easier it would be to view the license plate. The higher it is, the greater the viewing angle and the slimmer the image of the plate the harder it becomes for a program to correctly distinguish the important features. Well... this applies to police looking at license plates at least. Automated tickets for running red lights and speeders. I suppose there are possible reasons why the city could have placed them up there and in doing so wanted them as high as possible (I can't think of why they would want them at all but I guess it's possible) but see the reasons below for why I don't think the city would have done this either.
          2. 2) If this was a police or city camera, it wouldn't have needed to be placed "in the electric space" on the pole for electricity. The electric space doesn't mean it's the only spot for power on the pole. It means it's reserved for transporting massive amounts of electricity and it's reserved at higher place on the pole so that it doesn't become a hazard to less informed telco and cable company workers. It's dangerous and you don't want anyone near it who isn't fully trained in it. Now a camera doesn't even require a wired connection for communication. We have them all over where I live (Miami and Fort Lauderdale area), you see them all of the time on lights, on the highway, etc, and they all have antennae on them for wireless communications. These cameras can receive power and communicate equally at lower levels (when it's this small level of height difference). The police or city would have no reason or want to place them that high for technical purposes. If the cameras are not wireless equipped or they need a faster connection then what the wireless can provide (high def, high fps over long range wireless from many devices simultaneously) then they would still be in the proper zone for cable or telephone links in that zone. They have everything they need in that zone on the poll.
          3. 3) If this were a police or city camera, the power company would have already known, would not have dismounted it and would not have brought it to the police.
          4. 4) The police and city would both admit that it belongs to them if it did. It would not be a secret. They have so many bureaucratic policies that they are not allowed to go through some move like that and not inform the public when they did. I remember in a town a grew up in when the police started using cruisers marked as taxis to trick drunk drivers into not thinking it was police, making it easier to follow them without being noticed, etc, I don't remember the details but it was in the paper with a statement from the police about it. Government, at least at these basic levels, are not allowed to keep any secrets. They are required to inform the public (if your city has cameras, try it, ask the police and they will tell you it's theirs).
          5. 5) The police and city don't install cameras! They don't have a camera installation department. They don't want or need one. They contract this out. This is a one time roll out. They install the cameras and then they are installed. They wouldn't have a pre-existing camera installation department and if they know that they will have no practical use once the cameras are installed then they wouldn't create this department just to have to disband it soon thereafter. They contract this out to qualified individuals who are familiar with these polls and understand what zones it's allowed to be mounted in.
          6. 6) A properly done installation will leave details of the installation at the location. What I mean is these boxes that are mounted on the polls will say something like "Property of Comcast Cable, for problems call 1-800-555-7264" or something like that. It serves to notify people on the pole who
      • Re:Treaspassing (Score:5, Insightful)

        by demachina (71715) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @07:45PM (#40197137)

        DEA has had license plate reading cameras on U.S. highways for a while. In particular they record every car on some routes in California, Texas, Arizona and recently Utah [msn.com] using ELSAG cameras though they usually make no attempt to hide them [checkpointusa.org].

        They analyze the data looking for people transporting drugs from the Mexican border among other things. Maybe they are just expanding the program to watch the traffic along the northern border too.

        So, yea welcome to the big brother police state, we've been in it a while now. Say cheese!!

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Genda (560240)

          None of this is a problem. There is a paint available [schnaz.com] that makes it very hard to photograph your license plate and as far as I can tell, this is a great thing.

      • by Zemran (3101)

        There is no radar element to these devices so they cannot be used for speed or movement checking. They are obviously for spying on the population and not for law enforcement. Number plate recognition used over a large grid like this is for tracking your movements over your lifetime. They will know where everyone is at every moment of the day.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Code dictates 40 inches distance from the bottom of the electric facilities. Telephone and cable wires need to be attached to the pole below that space. Code compliance is a major pain, but something like this probably sticks out like a sore thumb, so it was easily spotted by utility crews.

      This is such a big box that doesn't look very covert to me. In southern AZ, we have different federal agencies and their cameras. Usually, they're really discreet and don't look like much at all. This seems like over

    • Pretty sure this calls for more tinfoil than that.
    • Re:Treaspassing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kheldan (1460303) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @08:05PM (#40197295) Journal
      You're assuming that they weren't clandestinely placed by a clandestine three-alphabet-letter government agency.

      If this sort of shit keeps up, I wouldn't be surprised if certain people start destroying ALL public cameras on general principles -- and I wouldn't blame anyone who did. George Orwell must be spinning in his grave about now and/or laughing riotously, wherever he might be, because He Told Us So and we apparently didn't listen.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by netmater (677317)
      It would be interesting if the next time the power company finds one, they keep it and inform the police department that the "rightful" owner may come by anytime to claim it and pay for the removal expense.
  • by JustShootMe (122551) <rmiller@duskglow.com> on Saturday June 02, 2012 @06:49PM (#40196657) Homepage Journal

    I'm not as worried about the existence of the cameras as I am that lots of people seem to know whose they are and no one's telling. That's kind of the antithesis of government transparency. I hope someone sues under FOIA.

    • Correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I understand, FOIA is a federal law that provides for the exposure of federal information. I don't think anyone can file a FOIA request with the state of New York or any of its counties or cities.
    • by pitchpipe (708843)

      I'm not as worried about the existence of the cameras as I am that lots of people seem to know whose they are and no one's telling.

      Don't you worry your little head Citizen. They are only there to catch the Drug-Pushing-Pedophile-Terrorist-Atheists. Just Think Of The Children. Do you Hate 'Merica?!

      You and your nasty freedom hating FOIA requests. You probably stick your dick in Mom's Apple Pie!

    • by Dunbal (464142) *

      I hope someone sues under FOIA.

      And they will receive a heavily (if not completely) redacted document and be told that it was edited in the name of "national security". It's the new way around the FOIA.

      • by Genda (560240)

        More important your name will be added to a list of names of people to watch very closely and now that you have gained nearly no information, they will be spending their learning a whole lot about you.

  • My first thought was that the Black Chamber might be implementing their own version of SCORPION STARE, but then it occurred to me that they wouldn't be this incompetent about it. So maybe there's some other party involved- it is still possible that these are loaded with basilisk technology.
    • by Sancho (17056) *

      Could be that someone wants us to think that Black Chamber is implementing SCORPION STARE. Or it could just be trials. Regardless, someone is apparently worried about CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN [pjmedia.com].

  • Get a bat (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 02, 2012 @06:51PM (#40196677)

    And start smashing. See who comes calling.

    • Re:Get a bat (Score:4, Interesting)

      by stevegee58 (1179505) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @07:00PM (#40196731) Journal
      Even better: find one, dismount it and take it home to have a look at it.
      Much more interesting.
    • Destruction of public property, vandalism, etc. These are the charges I WOULD have been concerned about 15 years ago. Now, I'd have to worry that following your suggestion would lead to some type of retarded terrorism charges. I'd hate to start smashing and see that the people that come calling are the NSA or Homeland Security.
      • Much more likely you would just disappear. Charges are too much bother.

    • Re:Get a bat (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DanielRavenNest (107550) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @11:03PM (#40198283)

      Some spray paint works equally well. For deniability, dip a rag in dirty water and just smear the lens. Then just wait to see who comes to fix it. For added fun, set up your own counter-camera nearby to monitor the first camera repair.

  • open records request (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 02, 2012 @06:52PM (#40196685)

    File an official request demanding that they release any pertinent information related to the owner/operator of those cameras. There is no legal basis for them to deny you that information (operational security or an active investigation).

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @07:02PM (#40196747) Journal
    These camera units have to have some sort of clue about their owner(unless they are configured in the not-so-terribly-useful 'record only to local storage, somebody climbs up when it is time to collect" mode). Are they connected to fixed wiring? Do they have a data radio of some flavor? WiFi? Cellular? Any SIM card to be pulled? Serial numbers, vendor information, dates of manufacture, etc, etc.

    Unless somebody went to considerable trouble to do this in some deep-black-ops kind of way, they should leak clues like a sieve once somebody just gives the cops the finger and takes one apart...
    • Looks like a standard cellular antenna on top in the photo, so very likely a SIM card. Serial number on the camera and processor. And very likely a sticker in the cabinet that says "If found please Return to DHS. And keep your mouth shut Or Else". Although wouldnt surprise me if the phone was already ringing on the Captains desk when the box showed up.
  • Obvious (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stevegee58 (1179505) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @07:03PM (#40196757) Journal
    It's DHS. Canadian border right?
  • by gstrickler (920733) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @07:08PM (#40196819)

    ...can burn out some CCDs, or at least temporarily "blind" them.

    And now I'm expecting a visit from DHS for disseminating easily available info. It's been nice not knowing you.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      A pinhole in a non-obvious device could conceal a laser until the kill, and a conventional laser weapon sight could be boresighted beforehand to assist aiming. Put a camera behind the laser sight, and you could aim it remotely....

      • by cayenne8 (626475)

        A pinhole in a non-obvious device could conceal a laser until the kill, and a conventional laser weapon sight could be boresighted beforehand to assist aiming. Put a camera behind the laser sight, and you could aim it remotely....

        You know..if you could rig this up with some auto tracking and aiming gear....I'd be VERY interested in this...to blow out all traffic cameras in the area around here....

        For educational purposes only, of course.

  • DEA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sensi (64510) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @07:08PM (#40196821) Homepage

    It's the DEA. Doing the same thing outside of California. Logging traffic to find patterns of drug runners across the border.

    • Re:DEA (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 02, 2012 @07:16PM (#40196889)

      I live in Watertown, which is in the county south of St. Lawrence. Our local online newswank (newzjunky.com) has a few stories confirming this--federal grants funding license plate readers used by law enforcement for various and sundry tracking tasks, including mapping drug runners and catching local burglars.

    • It's the DEA. Doing the same thing outside of California. Logging traffic to find patterns of drug runners across the border.

      ANPR seems like a huge violation of both the right to travel freely and the right to be free of unreasonable searches. We've gone from a model where license plates were used after the fact of a crime to where they are used when there is absolutely no suspicion of wrong-doing. That's not the bargain we signed up for when license plates were first made mandatory.

  • If being constantly monitored has the aim of keeping a local populace in line, imagine what it would do for our politicians...
  • by bjdevil66 (583941) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @07:30PM (#40197021)

    ...you're risking the security of the country. Americans can't handle the truth, and the less they know about the dark side of terrorism or the drug trade flowing into the US, the better. It's easier to deal with in obscurity than with the partisan press making it hard for the security of our country to be kept up.

    (I kid, but the sad part is that there are some out there that would actually agree with that sentiment 100%...)

  • Homeland Security! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gti_guy (875684) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @07:35PM (#40197055)
    Homeland Security agressively patrols that area since it borders Canada and has a international crossing at Cornwall. I've been stopped at road blocks hosted jointly by NYS Police & Homeland Security. The State Police stayed in the background while my car was singled out by Homeland Security for a walk-around sniff by their dog and an uncomfortable amount of questioning. I'm an old Unix admin who does not resemble a terrorist in the slightest. Also worth noting that that St. Regis Native American Reservation sits on both sides of the border there. Perhaps someone is trying to keep tabs on them??
    • by cayenne8 (626475)

      Homeland Security agressively patrols that area since it borders Canada and has a international crossing at Cornwall. I've been stopped at road blocks hosted jointly by NYS Police & Homeland Security. The State Police stayed in the background while my car was singled out by Homeland Security for a walk-around sniff by their dog and an uncomfortable amount of questioning. I'm an old Unix admin who does not resemble a terrorist in the slightest. Also worth noting that that St. Regis Native American Reserv

  • by FudRucker (866063) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @07:35PM (#40197059)
    shoot em with a painball gun, just hit the lens, paintball wont cause permanent damage but it would force the owners to send out a crew to clean them, do it enough times and the cameras are no longer cost effective to the ticket happy privateers
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      An EASY fix? Ever fired a paintball gun? Most of them aren't that accurate. You'd probably do a lot of firing, risking notice.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 02, 2012 @09:31PM (#40197749)

    They are watching for smuggling, both ways. Into and out of Canada.

    The reservation is on both sides of the river.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akwesasne [wikipedia.org]

    http://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2009/07/more-from-the-frontier-largest-northern-new-york-drug-bust-ever.html [adirondackalmanack.com]

    This is just what they catch, and they aren't looking too closely, or haven't in the past. Very quiet there. I'm very familiar with the area and it has always been a smugglers paradise, prohibition til now. A lot of old Victorian houses up there have secret hidden rooms. If you ask the homeowner why they are there, they usually claim for the underground railroad. BS, these houses were built after the civil war, and most in the 1920's. Huge fortunes were made moving booze.

    Everyone there knows what's going on. My best estimate is that 50% of the imported drugs on the east cost come in to the country from there.

    There was also a huge case in the late 90's where a 1-2 billion dollar a year cigarette smuggling ring (moving the cigs north, into canada) was broken up. Phillip Morris had several execs indited.

    Big business.

    My guess on the agency, in order of likelihood.

    DEA
    ATF
    Border Patrol
    FBI
    DHS (using parts of the above)
    Canada, with support from any of the above.

  • how do you know that they read number plates? may be your basic CCTV?

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