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Privacy Technology

Manhattan 1984 545

Etherwalk writes "The New York Times is reporting on developments in the quest to charge driving fees for all vehicles headed below 86th Street in Manhattan. Notably absent from any part of the discussion is that a record is made of every car or truck that enters, together with the vehicle ownership information and the date and time of travel — either as part of EZ-Pass or in license-plate photos taken for subsequent billing."
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Manhattan 1984

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  • Funny (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bytesex ( 112972 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @04:15AM (#20233963) Homepage
    Thing is, I discussed this with my US cousin a few months back, and told him how in the Netherlands, we had all sorts of systems in place already to monitor traffic for billing and speeding registration purposes, using cameras that read license plates. He was sure that, for privacy reasons alone, such systems would never fly in the States.
  • It *is* a big deal.. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @04:43AM (#20234079)
    The Information Commissioner has repeatedly asked for details of how this info is used. It has also emerged that outside congestion charge hours the cameras are kept online and are STILL recording.

    It is no coincidence that the Information Commissioner has been rendered fairly toothless politically. Westminster can't afford anyone asking the right questions - it could make people realise that the UK is now close to being a full fledged police state (it's never been a democracy).

    Worse, that hasn't reduced crime one bit - you need a feeling of insecurity to stop people from asking questions..

    1984 - it's a manual..
  • Re:Awesome! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @04:47AM (#20234097)
    how is it paranoia when they ARE actually tracking you?

    land of the free indeed....

  • Re:Awesome! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @04:53AM (#20234125)
    You'd have made a great Hitler Youth member.

    BTW, New Yorkers, when they tell you that the London Congestion Chrage cut traffic by 20% they are LYING. The scheme was launched at the beginning of a school holiday when the traffic volume drops by over 15% anyway. They also promised that the £5 charge would NOT be raised - yet raised the charge to £8 when it became clear that the CC wasn't making enough money. The proposal is now to have a "congestion" charge based on the CO2 emissions of your car, with the top rate (225g/km - basically any petrol engine over about 2.5litres capacity) being £25 per day. That's right FIFTY DOLLARS PER DAY. Oh, and it goes without saying that the CC zone has also been extended in area, with more extensions promised, and that the ANPR camera network that drives the system is now used by the police to track EVERYONE. What do they do with the data? Who knows. Can you see the data relating to you? Of course not.

    1984 it is not. Orwell never dreamed of ANPR, GPS and ubiquitous supercomputing.

    You have been warned.
  • Re:London 1984? ;) (Score:3, Interesting)

    by high_rolla ( 1068540 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @04:56AM (#20234137) Homepage
    Cool, Can't wait to see the article about how people have gotten around this then. I'm always intrigued by the clever ways people invent to get around these sorts of systems.
  • by Raptoer ( 984438 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @04:57AM (#20234141)

    Systems like this just empower society to cut out the cancer and get on with more productive things like work, socialising, and being able to relax in a home that isn't stripped bare, burned down, or riddled with bullet holes.
    However the question is, is this system worth the loss of privacy? (not to mention the cost of actually running the thing!) Every thing you do to deter crime knocks some people out of the candidate list for committing that crime. If a crime is immoral (murder, rape, arson, stealing, ect) that knocks a good 90+% of your average educated population off the list. That combined with fear of being caught, punishment, being ostracized from everyone that you know removes another large chunk of the population from that list.

    What remains on that list is the portion that doesn't care about any of that, they will stop at nothing to do whatever crime they intend to commit. Sorry to say, but no matter what you do, crime will always happen. (an example of this is crime during Soviet Russia, if the police even thought you might be responsible for a crime you were either killed or sent go a gulag, yet it still occurred)

    I doubt that in any major city since the 1800's have people actually been seriously afraid of having their homes stripped bare, burned down, or riddled with bullet holes (there are exceptions however, gang warfare and race warfare, neither of which would be impacted by this system in the slightest)
  • by Tim Browse ( 9263 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @04:58AM (#20234143)

    The system works reasonably well, but it doesn't really stop people driving in the "congestion" zones

    Hmm, I worked in London at the time the charge was introduced, and for a couple of years after. I noticed a big difference in the amount of traffic on the roads. I happen to like the system, but then I don't tend to habitually drive into London (because I'm not insane).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @05:04AM (#20234157)
    After a earlier trial in Stockholm, Sweden the system is back online. The automatic license plate reading system is developed by IBM and only scans license plates when you drive into the toll zone or leaving it. It created a 20% decrease in traffic during the earlier trial and the average speed increased. The air pollution levels was reduced. The bus system, trains and subway noticed an increase in passengers but travel times was reduced still.

    The information is kept until payment has been made, when it's removed from the system. With only 2 weeks to pay not much information can be recovered from the database.

    With all the alarming reports about climate change and greenhouse gases it's probably a good idea to implement road tolls all over the world. In Stockholm environment friendly cars don't have to pay the road tolls. What is defined as a environment friendly car is subject to change every year as development goes forward.
  • by Serious Callers Only ( 1022605 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @05:08AM (#20234173)

    The system works reasonably well, but it doesn't really stop people driving in the "congestion" zones

    Traffic has been reduced by 26% at the last count, so it has in fact stopped some people driving in the congestion zones, as intended. 'Reductions in congestion inside the charging zone over the whole period since the introduction of the scheme now average 26 percent. ' - from the 2007 report of Tfl.

    Now - the mayor is proposing to charge different rates based on what type of car you have - small effecient compacts would pay nothing or next to nothing, while massive SUVs or anything with a 3+ liter engine would pay upto £25 GBP per day ($50 USD). The most likely outcome of this? Poorer people will use public transport, while for the richer bigger fines will just affirm their social status, or make them consider getting smaller cars.

    I believe this is the intended effect, I doubt very much people would use fines as status symbols (proof of this?), and if they do, their stupidity would fund further public transport. No one who is poor in London can afford a car anyway (if you can afford a car in London, you have to pay parking, road tax, and fuel, not to mention upkeep), so they'll be happier with improved public transport.

    As for the surveillance aspect - I'd be more concerned about their efforts to extend the length of time the police can hold people without trial (currently being misused to hold protesters against airport expansion), and routine use of torture [amazon.co.uk] (though thank goodness its use in court has been banned, much to the UK government's chagrin). Potential tracking of road use is the least of our worries.
  • Re:So what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jrumney ( 197329 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @05:30AM (#20234255)

    and some shops have seen catastrophic fall-off in business.

    Which shops? I had to laugh at the protests from Oxford Street shopkeepers when the congestion charge was first introduced. The hassle of parking in the West End far outweighs any perceived inconvenience of using public transport.

  • Re:Awesome! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MrNaz ( 730548 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @05:58AM (#20234351) Homepage
    There's a difference to being in view in public, and having your whereabouts noted, and retrievable for all of eternity. I find it kinda disconcerting that I could one day be confronted by police with an exhaustive list of my movements for the last 10 years.

    My uncle was visited by ASIO for suspected terrorism related stuff. We're Muslim, and it's a tradition donate food to poor people. He runs a butcher, and so sent meat to a Middle Eastern based charity organization. They then sent it to a regional distribution center which then distributed it to various community groups, one of which was apparently on an Interpol watch list of some description. Despite the layer upon layer of distance, my uncle's house was raised, all computer data was copied and he was questioned (bear in mind he sent a bunch of dead sheep, not a briefcase of hard currency or blueprints for nuclear related widget thingies).

    He was presented with a list of every phone call he'd made in the last 10 years or so, and every call overseas he was required to explain. We're from South Africa, and are of Indian descent. Being Indian with a bloody huge families we have, we have relatives all over the place, and so we make heaps of overseas phone calls. Eventually, they decided my uncle was harmless, and left him alone. Nonetheless, ever since then I've been gearing up to move to a country that is not in the Western Axis, as I am increasingly getting the feeling that we as Muslims just aren't welcome. Plus, I don't like the idea that someone, somewhere has access to all of my movements.

    Oh, and if you're going to give me the "if you've got nothing to hide you've got nothing to fear" line, please don't, I've heard it many times before and it sounds dumber each time I hear it.
  • What I don't get (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Capt James McCarthy ( 860294 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @05:59AM (#20234353) Journal
    Is how there is not any outrage, but there is acceptability, for the corupt nature of the whole situation. Gas taxes are supposed to pay for roads (maint & repair). That would go to figure, you use public roads, you should pay for them. But now here's a situation where the Federal Govt is giving NY 300+ million to charge people more money to use _PUBLIC_ roads. I guess "Public" no longer means paid for by the people's taxes, but means, paid for by the people's taxes, and rented out to the folks who can afford it.

    Rerouting congestion does not solve the problem. NIMBY all over again. Those cars have to go somewhere. And as for the folks who think that public transportation is good enough, that could be viewed as another freedom taken away. Folks drive for many reasons, one being a sense of going where they want, when they want.
  • Re:London 1984? ;) (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @06:21AM (#20234439) Homepage Journal

    number plate recognition software read a letter or number wrong

    We have these speed cameras here in Australia which measure your speed over a distance by recording your travel time between two points and correlating rego plates. It had been assumed that they used some kind of OCR until a bus driver got charged with going 153 km/h (impossible for that type of bus) because the system confused plates with transposed digits, ie, AB != BA.

    So is our software dyslexic? Perhaps not.

  • Re:Awesome! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by beuges ( 613130 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @07:39AM (#20234671)
    I'm not sure exactly how toll plazas in the states work, with EZPass and other things, but there was a (slightly famous) case in South Africa where a toll plaza helped solve a murder.

    This happened at least ten years ago, so I'm not sure if video surveillance was the norm back then. I know now that all toll plazas here have cameras that record licence plates, but payment is still entirely manual - you pay with cash or credit card... the most automated means of passing is by swiping your credit card yourself in an express lane. But anyways. Because some toll plazas are on roads that are used daily for people to get to work and back, some of them offer concession cards to people living in the area to get a discounted rate. So, you pull up at the toll booth, hand in your concession card, the attendant swipes it, it registers the discounted fare, you pay, get your card back, and leave. What not many people knew, was that since you had to apply for these cards, and the cards were issued on a per vehicle basis (the card has to match the license plate to prevent fraud), the card has the vehicle details and registered owner details stored in its magnetic strip, and when the operator swipes your card to register your concession, the card details are logged in a database somewhere.

    What happened was, this guy decided to murder his employee to cash in on a life policy that he had taken out in the employees name. He took his family 3-4 hours away to a casino resort for the weekend, and asked the employee to check on the house while he was away. While the family was asleep, he got in his car, drove back home, killed the employee and made it look like a break-in, drove back to the resort, and appeared very surprised and upset at the break-in and murder in his house when he returned. Although it was very suspicious and lots of evidence pointed to him, he did have the alibi of having checked in in person at the resort for the weekend. Except that he used his concession card when he drove through the toll each time, which recorded his car details and the date and time that he passed through.

    These days, the discount you get for having a concession card is the equivalent of less than US$1... back then it would have been closer to around 10-20c US each trip. So, if he hadn't tried to save himself around 50c and paid the full toll price, he could have gotten away with murder.

    I'm not trying to justify data recording at toll booths nor put them down. Just thought it was an interesting, somewhat related story.
  • Privacy Laws (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Mutant321 ( 1112151 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @07:48AM (#20234705) Homepage
    I think the reason these systems are a little more acceptable in Europe is that there are strong privacy laws in place. Yes, there is a lot of data being collected, which could *potentially* be used malicously, but privacy laws prevent this from happening (for the most part). Every organisation who collects this data has to be open about what they're collecting, and what they're using it for. Any deviation from this can result in severe penalties.

    In the end, collecting and analysing data is an extremely valuable and useful thing. It benefits not just the companies who collect it, but potentially society as a whole. For example, the London C-charge records data on vehicles for pretty much the same reason as what's being proposed in Manhattan. The positive impact is a huge reduction in congestion and pollution in central London. These types of benefits have to be weighed against the potential for mis-use.

    Unfortunately, in the US, people don't have the same level of legal privacy protection as the rest of the developed world (not just Europe). Perhaps that's the real problem here.
  • Re:Funny (Score:5, Interesting)

    by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @08:14AM (#20234867) Journal
    People don't die due to speeding as they used to, Stockholm traffic isn't jammed every god damned day and the environment is happy happy which also means lives saved in the long run. Doesn't that hold any value when compared to privacy?

    I'm going on the presumption you have never been to Manhattan so I'll try not to make too much fun of you.

    First, the only way anyone can speed in Manhattan, during normal business hours, is if they are on a bike. Traffic is for all intents and purposes, a crawl during the day. There are a few minor exceptions such as Fifth Ave or so where, if you time the lights correctly and are going the correct speed, you can hit all the green lights. But then, so does everyone else in the pack you're traveling with so it's a zero gain.

    Second, reducing the number of vehicles below 86th Street in Manhattan will have a very negligible effect on pollution. Considering Manhattan is across the river from New Jersey, and NJ is known for its concentration of industrial and chemical businesses, guess what happens when the wind blows from the west? Not to mention the sheer amount of grime that has built up over the decades which goes airborne in the hot weather (as we recently experienced).

    Finally, one of many reasons the Founding Fathers of my country decided to part ways from merry old England was because of privacy. In those times, the Crown could send troops or other officials into your home on a whim, without a warrant, just to see if you were doing anything wrong. It was the Crown, it could do what it wanted. That is why there is that part in our Constitution which specifically says the government must get a warrant to do a search.

    So no, giving up our right to privacy (despite Scalia saying it doesn't exist) is not a good trade off. Granted, the vast majority of the unwashed masses don't know squat about their rights except three; right to free speech, right to religion and right to bear arms, but even then they're too brainwashed and kept in a perpetual state of fear to realize that all the other rights our Founding Fathers wanted us to have are essentially null and void at this time.

    Maybe you don't mind being tracked everywhere you go but I know I do. If someone wants to know where I was at a particular date and time, they can ask me. If I think it's a legitimate question, I'll answer them. If not, it's none of their business.

    I know I've said this before but James Madison nailed it when he said: If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.

  • by FireFury03 ( 653718 ) <slashdotNO@SPAMnexusuk.org> on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @08:18AM (#20234899) Homepage
    In the UK, we already have to pay fuel tax _and_ road tax, which is then supposed to go into maintaining the road system

    The sad thing is that the road tax (coupled with insurance costs) is a disincentive to be fuel efficient. If, like me, you need a van for weekends, the cost of taxing and insuring 2 vehicles means you're more likely to just drive that horribly inefficient van around all week rather than getting a more efficient car for your daily commute to work.

    And now the government wants to introduce per-mile charging which not only makes travelling more expensive but reduces the disadvantages of having an inefficient vehicle. Why bother getting an efficient car when you're paying the same per mile as the massive 4x4's? Not only that, but it's a government IT project so I fully expect it to be excessively expensive (tracking hardware in every car and the massive infrastructure needed to use it, plus all the brown envelopes going into the pockets of EDS or similar) and an almighty cock-up (can you say "NHS database"?)

    Unfortunately, despite the huge amount of money raised through these taxes, many of the roads are in a terrible state of repair and there are an increasing number of roads with excessive "traffic calming" measures on with questionable legality (I would just love to see speed bumps ruled illegal under the disabilities discrimination act).

    Here in Manchester, they want to introduce the 'Congestion Charge' scheme in the same way they have in London.

    A few years ago, Southampton council were proposing to do the same thing. At the time, I was working in the city centre and frankly the introduction of a congestion charge would've caused us to move the office. i.e. it would not only kill the city centre through businesses moving out, but it would *prevent* the use of public transport since there is no feasable way to service the out of town locations that the offices would move to.

    The current state of affairs seems to be that the government thinks they can prevent people from using their cars through raising the cost. The trouble with that thinking is that there is no alternative - public transport just isn't up to the job.

    - Public transport to and from the city centres should be improved (the last few times I took a bus from home into the city centre it took 5 times as long as it would've taken in the car and on a number of occasions the bus didn't even turn up).
    - Trains need to be made cheaper. It's more expensive for me to take the train to London than drive and park there for a day, even if I'm the only person in the car.
    - Long distance coach services are a joke - 7 or 8 hours to do a journey that it takes me 3.5 hours to do in the car. This is mostly because they have to get off the motorway and go into a city centre to make each stop along the route. This is easilly solved by dropping people off at motorway service stations and using minibuses to get them from the motorway to the city centre.
    - I don't believe it's possible to provide sensible bus services for people needing to go from one out of town location to another out of town location, so we need to just accept that people will need to use their cars for this.
    - Promote flexible working conditions in appropriate industries. Grants for companies that embrace flexible working, taxes for those that don't. If people aren't tied to the 0900-1730 office hours there would be a lot less congestion on the roads.

  • Re:Awesome! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Hubbell ( 850646 ) <{moc.evil} {ta} {iillebbuhnairb}> on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @09:03AM (#20235291)
    That's why the UK government has basically been forced into ultra political correctness by not teaching any subjects in school that are counter to Muslim hardline teachings.
  • Re:Funny (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Aceticon ( 140883 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:10AM (#20236079)

    I really don't understand why people keep pointing to privacy issues when it comes to your PUBLIC movements. Tracking your phone records and such is a different story, as that information is actually private. Where you go in public isn't private to begin with. It's PUBLIC, get it? That information is already out there for everyone to see. Not to mention the fact that if you're driving in a car, you're on a road, which is a government controlled area. I can't believe anyone thinks they should be able to drive in Manhattan, and their whereabouts should remain private!

    You're absolutely right!

    I would go even further, since all this system does is track what people do in PUBLIC, I believe all persons should have free and unrestricted access to this system and ALL the information collected by it. And i do mean ALL, that means all tracking of politicians, police officers, celebreties, cheating wifes/husbands, bosses, co-workers, your daughter, and anybody one feels like stalking virtually.

    After all, all this system does is track things people do in PUBLIC - nobody should have any expectation of privacy from anything they do in PUBLIC!!!
  • Re:Awesome! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by morari ( 1080535 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:24AM (#20236287) Journal
    But Christianity and Judaism are okay, despite following the same "God"? I say we get rid of them all, since they've been making countries less free since their conception!
  • Re:Awesome! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:29AM (#20236361)
    The sad part is that you don't see the hypocrisy in your position.

    You pretend opposing Muslim existence in your midst is a noble cause, preventing the negative changes they might bring to our society -- but you don't seem to realize you're bringing about much more negative changes through your related acts (and irrational support of such acts).

    You think you're fighting theocratic totalitarianism -- but to do so, you implement your own totalitarian measures, which simply cannot be characterized in any lesser terms. Universal wiretapping without warrant requirements, secret overseas prisons, physically coercive interrogation (torture, but let's not get caught up in semantics), multi-year jail terms for people who are not given trials (nor even allowed to talk to lawyers), and numerous other offenses are the clear evidence. Do you not see it, or do you just not want to see it?
  • data retention (Score:2, Interesting)

    by madeye the younger ( 318275 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:43AM (#20236573)
    Like many other information gathering systems, my concern is not for the primary legitimate uses. The fact that this data will in all probability be archived as an abstract summary/conclusion instead of the actual evidence means there will be no way to dispute mistakes. Much like when a police officer 'accidently' destroys notes so that his word becomes the primary evidence rather than the recorded observations made at the time. The consequence will be that anyone wishing to dispute a possible mistake will simply be confronted with "the system says your vehicle was there".

    At that point, you better have footage from a television news team and a handwritten note from the Pope that he was riding shotgun with you on the other side of town. Anything less, and its your word against the government's expert witness. When this happens YEARS after the supposed incident(s) how are you going to come up with an armorclad alibi?

    Store the *recordings themselves* or don't retain the data after it has been used for its DESIGNED purpose.
  • Manhattan 1984!? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by l33tDad ( 1118795 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:53AM (#20236699)
    I mean, come on people. I have an EZ-Pass for the Thruway in NY. Every time I go through a toll booth, it gets noted (date, time, plaza #, vehicle). Actually, every plaza that I've seen has a camera system in it for license plate recognition. What the hell is the difference here? Also, anyone here use a credit card? How about a store discount card? Hmm? You can't tell me that the store doesn't store that data in a big database somewhere. I think people are getting a bit paranoid here.
  • Re:Awesome! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @12:52PM (#20238295)

    Apart from when you said this...

    Just listen to them bleating about how Muslim people don't 'integrate' and how the Muslim community doesn't denounce terrorist attacks loudly enough.

    I wasn't complaining about them making generalisations, I was complaining that the generalisations were incorrect. There is a big difference. Saying that the majority of people in the UK are right-wing is a fact, as I have shown above. When Rupert--right wing--Murdoch says jump, the Labour Party asks: 'how high would you like Mr Murdoch?'

    who voted for a Left Wing government

    Wow, you think Labour are a left-wing government?! No. They're more right-wing than the Conservatives. Tony Blair privatises more than most Tory governments [independent.co.uk] have [indymedia.org.uk] done [guardian.co.uk]. Look at how the real [socialistworker.co.uk] left-wing [bbc.co.uk] gets along with him.

  • Re:Awesome! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by turbidostato ( 878842 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @08:49PM (#20243701)
    "Muslim people have committed heinous acts of terror in the name of Islam against Western targets, and have come right out and said there will be no peace until all the infidels are gone. It's not that Westerners feel threatened by Muslims, it's that we are threatened by Muslims. Muslims are threatening our lives, our society, our way of life. Is it a surprise that you don't feel welcome?"

    Well, once upon a time there was Inquisition so Christian people have committed heinous acts of terror in the name of Christianity against Western targets, and have come right out and said there will be no peace until all the infidels are gone. It's not that Westerners feel threatened by Christians, it's that we are threatened by Christians (Inquisition has not gone away). Christians are threatening our lives, our society, our way of life. Is it a surprise that you don't feel welcome?

    Maybe you forgot the meaning of the word "some"? Maybe it has more to do with the fact that they are terrorists than with the fact they are muslims? I for one know for certain some muslims that are far from terrorits and I can say I know (not personally) some Christians that *are* terrorists. The circumnstace that I'm worried about is not if they are Christians or Muslims, but if they are terrorists or not.

10.0 times 0.1 is hardly ever 1.0.