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Repo Men Using New Technology To Track Cars 222

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 ) <> on Saturday February 27, 2010 @07:09PM (#31300358) Homepage Journal

    ...for stalkers.

    Time to ban!

  • simple ? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 27, 2010 @07:11PM (#31300366)

    $600/mo ? you could take a webcam and run it through any ocr software and get the same result for less than $600/month.
    wtf ?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 27, 2010 @07:17PM (#31300422)

    Aside from parts of NYC, you can't get around any American city without having an automobile. It's almost as necessary to live as water, food, shelter and clothing.

  • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JeffSh ( 71237 ) <> on Saturday February 27, 2010 @07:23PM (#31300454)

    Pretty dumb question. Like a lot of other things, license plates weren't intended to be this easily accessed for their location and traffic habits. I did a lot of work managing municipal data and one of the concerns is that the ease of access of "public" information is causing a major headache.

    For instance, lots of public records were public records because in order to get them you had to go to the court house, fill out a request, pay some money and receive them. Removing the barrier to access by opening certain public records up to electronic access is causing a notable and legitimate concern for privacy where none existed before.. The clear reason is because before it used to require a concerted effort and will as a barrier to entry. When things are made easier it removes the barrier which previously existed as a bulwark that satiated existing privacy concerns.

    Speed of information should legitimately be a concern in the digital age where our laws and regulations what is publicly available information just don't adapt well to the modern age.

  • by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @07:24PM (#31300466)

    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 when they run into the rest of us) and tax scofflaws.

  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @07:30PM (#31300492) Homepage

    So? Nobody's denying you the privilege but you have to drive a car you can afford, pay the insurance and park it properly when you arrive.

    From what I've seen though, "living within your means" isn't what Americans are best at.

  • by weston ( 16146 ) <> on Saturday February 27, 2010 @07:30PM (#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:Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 27, 2010 @07:35PM (#31300530)

    Then ride a bike, problem solved. I just don't see the BFD.

    How about this. You shed skin cells while you are in public. You shed skin cells on receipts when you sign for things you paid with by credit card. My private company has a right to collect your DNA, match it up to your name, and do whatever it is I want to do with the data.

    If you don't want your DNA scraped, don't go into public. Problem solved. I just don't see the BFD.

  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @07:41PM (#31300574) Homepage Journal

    Plate scanning systems are just a fast way to do what repo folks have been doing for years.

    But if too many uses for registration plates are found people with less to lose will just start making their own plates. Some of those people presumably have experience in the field anyway ;)

  • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DAldredge ( 2353 ) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Saturday February 27, 2010 @07:42PM (#31300580) Journal
    Why don't you post on /. under your real name?
  • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WrongSizeGlass ( 838941 ) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @07:46PM (#31300602)
    Driving is pretty much required in the US. Tracking license plate 'location related activity' is analogous to tracking your cell phone's GPS. Just because you're "out in public" doesn't mean your movements should be logged or recorded.

    I have nothing to hide, but I'm still not comfortable with someone/government tracking my movements just because they can.
  • Re:simple ? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by The End Of Days ( 1243248 ) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @07:49PM (#31300616)

    Yes, it is perfectly normal to pay more for a service than it costs to do it yourself. The money saved is invested as time and effort, which is what you compensate the service provider for providing. This is basic to the US society, and quite a few others as well. It confuses me that you are obviously educated enough to compose English sentences yet somehow missed a fact that even 10 year olds understand.

  • by weston ( 16146 ) <> on Saturday February 27, 2010 @07:49PM (#31300618) Homepage

    Driving's not a right, but a certain amount of privacy should be, and unless you want a database of where you drive for sale whether you make your automobile payments or not, you should probably be on the side of people who are interested in oversight.

  • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @07:53PM (#31300648) Journal

    I agree...if you want to drive you need to pay insurance/tax/parking, etc., ie. act like a member of the society you're so happy to leech off.

    Thank you, Thomas Hobbes. Any other arbitrary and capricious hoops you would like people to be required to jump through before engaging in ordinary activities?

    ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras are widespread in the UK and they definitely get my vote.

    Yeah, the UK, now there's an example to follow in the realm of privacy.

  • by Threni ( 635302 ) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @08:02PM (#31300716)

    Insurance isn't an `arbitrary` hoop. It's a way of ensuring that if you hit my car, you get to pay for it. What's the alternative? The courts of the country being clogged up with loads of civil law suits for every last accident?

  • by Ralph Spoilsport ( 673134 ) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @08:02PM (#31300718) Journal
    right. Like bicycles don't exist. Like you can't move closer to work. If you can't see past anb automobile in your life, you won't have a life to live much past 2025.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 27, 2010 @08:15PM (#31300808)

    Go "eff yourself." I mean really. You may enjoy your European/Chinese/Arab/whatever surveillance society. No doubt Mussolini made the Italian repo men run on time too.

    As for me, I would prefer that no one be able to purchase my travel history from a private company. Or any of my medical, personal, credit information for that matter.

    As a reporter, I can tell you there are numerous and perfectly ethical reasons why wholesale breaches of privacy are abhorrent to freedom. The least of which is that I certainly don't trust some MVTRAC dumbass employee having his laptop stolen from his car.

    "MVTRAC utilizes a centralized database that receives license plate image reads from remote systems in real time via the Internet. The license plate reader systems can be either fixed or mobile, and utilize a wired, Wi-Fi, or Verizon wireless broadband connection. Plate images are stored in the database, and clients can connect using a web browser to manually search for plate sightings."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 27, 2010 @08:19PM (#31300822)

    Are we supposed to feel sympathy for you? If you suffer from chronic seizures not only are you a danger to yourself behind the wheel but a danger to other drivers and pedestrians.

    I'm guessing from your comments that State DMV's don't share information with each other if you were able to get licensed in each of them, which is quite galling. Either that or you were perpetrating some sort of fraud whenever you moved and applied for a license.

  • Re:Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @08:20PM (#31300828)
    I was thinking about near-future tech applications a few years back (maybe 2004), and I came up with the idea of mounting belly-cams in commercial jetliners. These could be trained on interstate highways and read license plates in favorable weather. Miami-LAX flights could monitor I-10, Miami-NY could watch I-95, etc. Not much investment or operating expense in exchange for a tremendous amount of near real-time information about who is traveling the long-distance highways.

    It isn't "if", it's "when" this tech is deployed. On the one hand, I'd like to have a camera pointed out my front window recording every license tag that passes my house - on the other hand, I'd really rather not be called in for questioning just because I drove by the scene of a crime around the same time it supposedly happened.
  • by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @08:23PM (#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 ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) * on Saturday February 27, 2010 @08:27PM (#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 ) <> on Saturday February 27, 2010 @08:28PM (#31300886) Homepage

    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. And there's simply no coherent philosophy, party, or leadership that's willing to push a robust public agenda in the United States. Even in the name of privacy.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @08:30PM (#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.

  • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) * on Saturday February 27, 2010 @08:48PM (#31300982)

    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 ... and then six months later put them back after an investigation proved that I'd activated a new account from a phone number and address in a country that I've never visited much less lived in. I had to pay my attorney to adjust their attitude. Consequently, it won't matter much to the victim of a crime (or government abuse) facilitated by this database. They're still screwed.

    We need to take a very different approach to data aggregation in general. You shouldn't get to collect squat about us unless you can prove you need it. If you don't, you don't store it. The fact that it makes a civil servant's job easier is not, in and of itself, sufficient reason to permit this kind of activity. That's especially true when the private sector gets involved. I'll give you an example: in my state, they're putting in red light cams everywhere (not quite as bad as London, maybe, but they're trying hard.) These cameras are used to "enhance revenue" (political-speak for "issue lots more tickets for stuff that was never ticketed before and often isn't illegal anyway.") That's bad enough, but in many towns the companies that build them are given a direct percentage of the take. The more cameras they put in, the more money they make (ha, talk about corporatism at work) and the data they collect is often sold to other companies for additional profit. I see this plate-scanning effort going exactly the same way.

    Regulation means nothing. If that information has been collected, and somebody wants it bad enough, believe me it will be made available. That's just life in the big city. The best solution is not to collect it at all. And furthermore, even if no-one tries to acquire a public records database through "legitimate" means, there are plenty of illegitimate ways once it's online. I've been down that road, and I don't trust government or the private sector to be willing or able to protect my information. It's not theirs, it's mine, and both government and the private sector have demonstrated (repeatedly) that they cannot be trusted to provide adequate security. Apparently, securing personal information is just not cost effective.

  • by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @08:56PM (#31301050) Journal

    I'm going to guess you never use your pda/phone while driving? That you never have a conversation with another passenger while driving? That you never have the music too loud while driving? That you never drink a beverage or eat anything while driving? that you never allow passengers in your vehicle that might distract you? That you never operate a motor vehicle while suffering the affects of a cold?

    To single out one small group of people and say they are dangerous is to completely ignore the huge impact that blonde hair makes... kidding aside, there are millions of dangerous drivers on the roads of North America who can not be medically denied a driving license, but who otherwise should be denied the privilege of driving just because they are reckless. I'm not saying I want a head on with someone having a seizure, but to single that problem out and not also fairly suggest that there are a great many people who should not be driving along with him is wrong.

    The simple fact is that North America is not designed such that driving is a privilege. It is a necessity, for most people outside large metropolitan areas. I live in a large metro area and outside of the main downtown areas, it's practically impossible to use public transport unless you combine it with some driving of your own. I like public transport, it's just not feasible here to use it only.

    That means that there will be millions of drivers driving who a) really don't need to be and/or b) who really shouldn't be. Until you address the initial issue, subjugating some drivers to an unfair situation is really not in the spirit if American freedoms.

    On topic: while having a camera sit and record license plates is no more intrusive on a public road than someone physically standing there doing so, recording my travels is tantamount to stopping all travelers and asking for their papers. Such an activity is clearly not within the bounds, intent, or scope of the Constitution. Operating a motor vehicle may be believed to not be a right, but traveling unfettered by having to produce your papers is. There are those who believe that licensing for drivers and for motor vehicles is contrary to standing law, and there is room for the argument as some folk to drive unlicensed vehicles without an operator's permit. Unfettered travel within the borders is a right.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 27, 2010 @09:31PM (#31301328)

    well we've sure set up society in a way that makes it compulsory in order for most people to function. thus most people treat it as a right. it should be. our taxes pay for the road we drive on whether the state deems us worthy of the 'privilege' or not. when the state takes your license/car/whatever, they should give you a second way to get to work at the very least. otherwise, with today's economy being what it is, the next stop that person's going to make is at the welfare office. oh and spare me the 'personal responsibility' sermon. the people who get screwed by scofflaw 'laws' are the ones who are least able to pay up. punishing htem with fines is like punishing a jailed-for-life inmate with more jailtime. past a certain point, it doesn't matter how much is owed because they'll never be able to pay it back. so go ahead, keep cranking up the righteous preaching and the law that goes with it, see how much worse you'll make society for a rapidly increasing percentage of the population.

  • Re:Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dr2chase ( 653338 ) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @10:53PM (#31301910) Homepage
    Theory and practice. The theory of what is "public" has not changed much, but technology changes the practice in huge ways. And what most people care about, is practice, not theory.

    There's two "howevers" for this story, however. First, automobiles are large, powerful, pieces of equipment, and carelessly driven, they hurt hundreds of people every day (and kill about a hundred). Not all of those people are their drivers, and not all the drivers, hang around to accept responsibility when they are involved in a crash (spent a little while in the hospital myself because of a H&R decades ago. We have mandatory liability insurance for automobiles (in most, maybe all states) for a reason. So arguably, we need those licenses, out where we can see them.

    Second, it doesn't sound to me like the repo men have much need of public records. If I loan you money so you can buy a car, damn-sure, I am going to know the license, VIN, etc, of that car. I don't a government database.

    This does not sound like a compelling case (as "poster child") for privacy rights.
  • Re:Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mi ( 197448 ) <> on Saturday February 27, 2010 @11:09PM (#31302034) Homepage Journal

    Why don't you post on /. under your real name?

    The Slashdot username is just as anonymizing, as the license plate number. But if someone — say, an ex-spouse — know your nickname (as the bank or police know your license plate number), they can track you down on Slashdot. And subpoena the last-used IP-address...

    License plate numbers are publicly visible and thus, really, ought not to be subject to regulation. It is going to get worse — in a few years the same cameras/computers will be able to pick-out and track our faces just as well as they currently read license plates... But there is nothing you can do about it: our privacy is protected solely by the others' ability to notice and remember . Computers remember everything, so try to avoid being noticed...

    Legislation will not help you because a) the government (always the main threat to rights) will be inevitably excepted; and b) there will always be loopholes (just look at WikiLeaks). Information wants to be free...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 28, 2010 @01:00AM (#31302782)

    I'm not agreeing with pervasive surveillance, I'm rejecting "Your wife will find out you had some beer" as a compelling argument against it.

    How about your wife's ex uses it to stalk and murder her, framing you for "Stealing" her from him, since he knows you were at a bar at 10pm on Friday night?

  • Re:Why? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by RealGrouchy ( 943109 ) on Sunday February 28, 2010 @01:11AM (#31302870)

    Is my "real name" the name my parents chose to call me, the name the government chooses to call me, or the name I choose for myself?

    - RG>

  • by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Sunday February 28, 2010 @03:43AM (#31303706)

    It sounds like a perfect time to start destroying video cameras we find in public, regardless of who owns them or what they are for.

  • by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Sunday February 28, 2010 @03:57AM (#31303766)

    esult. I've spent my entire life living in NJ, NY, PA, and CA, and I've been pedestrianized by every single one of them.

    FUCKING GOOD you inconsiderate bastard.

    If 4 fucking states said you don't need to be driving because its unsafe ... YOU DON'T NEED TO DRIVE BECAUSE YOU ARE UNSAFE.

    I don't give a shit if you think you have a 'reliable' warning period.

    Whine all fucking day long, you don't need to drive, lifes not fair, too fucking bad, good for the states that aren't allowing you to potentially kill someone else when you have a clearly dangerous condition for someone driving to have.

    I have a friend who can no longer drive for the same reason. Legally he can drive, but he's not so stupid as to risk other peoples lives when he knows its unsafe.

    I managed to hide my condition from the medical community in California for several years. I fibbed to doctors and didn't let them know. If I saw an aura from a rising seizure, I made an immediate exit and found a good place to hide (or I ran outside, into the woods, wherever).

    Thank you for giving another prime example of why you shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a drivers seat you inconsiderate son of a bitch.

    Now I'm riding a bike six miles to work to get my water, food, shelter etc

    You have a 6 mile spread between living, working and food supply ... and you can't drive ... let me tell you what they did a hundred years ago or so in your situation ... THEY MOVED CLOSER TO ONE OF THOSE THINGS. Or in your case, they wouldn't have moved 6 miles away from everything they needed, and you knew it when you moved there since you've already been banned in states. You're obviously not a real quick thinker, another reason you don't need to drive.

    Some of us are just fucked.

    You aren't fucked. Michael J Fox is fucked. Christopher Reeve was fucked. Stephen Hawking is fucked. You just can't drive, get some fucking perspective and stop being a cry baby. You can still walk. Come back to me when you can't walk, then maybe I'll feel some sympathy.

    Yes, this is a rant, inconsiderate self centered people piss me off. The world deals you what you get, its not my problem or anyone elses, it sucks that you can't drive, but its hardly a requirement for life. Do you know how many millions of people in the world live like you do by choice? ... go visit Europe, or hell, just move to any of the American city with public transportation, we have a few, not a lot, but enough that I'm sure you could find ONE of them that fits your wants.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"