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Global Mall Operator Starts Reading License Plates 301

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."
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Global Mall Operator Starts Reading License Plates

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  • 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.

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

    by Dan B. ( 20610 ) <> on Saturday September 10, 2011 @11:34PM (#37365732)

    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!

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

    by nmb3000 ( 741169 ) <> on Saturday September 10, 2011 @11:34PM (#37365736) 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>

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 10, 2011 @11:36PM (#37365744)

    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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

Bell Labs Unix -- Reach out and grep someone.