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Plate Readers Abound in DC Area, With Little Regard For Privacy 268

schwit1 writes "More than 250 cameras in Washington D.C. and its suburbs scan license plates in real time. It's a program that's quietly expanded beyond what anyone had imagined even a few years ago. Some jurisdictions store the information in a large networked database; others retain it only in the memory of each individual reader's computer, then delete it after several weeks as new data overwrite it. A George Mason University study last year found that 37 percent of large police agencies in the United States now use license plate reader technology and that a significant number of other agencies planned to have it by the end of 2011. But the survey found that fewer than 30 percent of the agencies using the tool had researched any legal implications. With virtually no public debate, police agencies have begun storing the information from the cameras, building databases that document the travels of millions of vehicles."
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Plate Readers Abound in DC Area, With Little Regard For Privacy

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  • A sad world. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Monday November 21, 2011 @09:08AM (#38122980)

    Where I live, there have always been plate readers.
    We call them 'Sir'.
    They register plates that seem suspicious to them and store them in little black notebooks that they keep 'til retirement, half a century sometimes. They work only 8 hours a day and want wages, uniforms, typing machines, unions, sick time, vacations, retirement money and other stuff the new ones don't need.
    The new ones are much cheaper for us taxpayers.
    They also know every fucking stolen car's plate by heart and can't be bribed by a doughnut.
    When we want to be anonymous, we walk or use a bike and not a car which have had license plates to identify them since the last 100 years.
    I guess that this new stuff is definitely eroding the right to drive a car in public that is registered as stolen, used in a robbery, kidnapping or murder.
    We can't even use stolen money anymore, since scanning money counting machines were invented.
    Even jewellery owners have digital photos of their stolen stuff online in seconds.
    It's a hard world for criminals.

  • Re:A sad world. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nerdfest ( 867930 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @09:22AM (#38123042)
    It's a great time for criminals. Of course, now we tend to call them 'corporations'.
  • Panopticon (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Phoenix666 ( 184391 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @09:26AM (#38123064)

    The thing about a real panopticon is that every node can see every other node.

    Somebody needs to tag all the cop, govt, and elected officials' cars and keep a public database of their movements so that the citizenry can keep exact track of what they're doing. Their home addresses, where their kids go to school, medical records, and bank account information should also be posted.

    Let's show them where this road they're on ultimately leads.

  • Re:A sad world. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 21, 2011 @09:27AM (#38123074)

    Want to hear something funny? Where I live we have the right to travel freely, a right to privacy, a right to be secure in our papers and person, and a right to be presumed innocent.

  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Smallpond ( 221300 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @09:31AM (#38123104) Homepage Journal

    Obviously this information is only used to prevent car theft because the car thieves will never think to switch plates. It couldn't have any other use.

  • Re:A sad world. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dominious ( 1077089 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @09:33AM (#38123118)
    I was going to mod insightful but I want to add to that:
    Dear /. reader,
    Why do you have a plate on your car in the first place? It's an identification number... Yes, to identify you in case it's needed by the police or by anyone. Don't like it? Don't use a car then. What? Privacy? What do you mean exactly? Also, you expect the police to ask for public debate? Yes because the public knows better the job of the police than the police itself. Get over it. You live in a crowed city, and you should follow the rules of the system or get out.
  • And yet ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ubrgeek ( 679399 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @09:36AM (#38123156)
    âoeIf youâ(TM)re not doing anything wrong, youâ(TM)re not driving a stolen car, youâ(TM)re not committing a crime,â Alessi said, âoethen you donâ(TM)t have anything to worry about.â

    Then officer, you're OK with my recording your making a traffic stop? Or how you choose to break up peaceful protestors? I mean, if you're following your agency's official rules, there should be no problem, right?
  • Re:Plain View (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 21, 2011 @09:43AM (#38123198)
    Indeed, the problem is not the camera's catching criminals.

    The problem is certain agencies throwing this data in huge data bases and analysing them for many other things that are out of the public's control.


  • by grumling ( 94709 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @09:43AM (#38123202) Homepage

    Why is it when I read something about DC's police force it's some new high tech tool, or a SWAT type tactic, or some other major program to reduce crime? And why is it that it never seems to even make a dent? Every time I've been to DC one of the most noticeable features is the sheer number of police cars, I'm just talking about DC metro cops, that are everywhere. Never mind all the Park Service police, black SUVs, and other law enforcement officials.

    How about get rid of the toys and get cops to start walking the beat? Let them get to know the people they're arresting and maybe be a good influence in the neighborhoods during the day, and just maybe you'll see crime drop at night.

    Oh, and let people carry. Nothing says "I'm armed and dangerous" like a Glock 9mm on the hip.

  • Re:A sad world. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @09:46AM (#38123224)

    It's a hard world for criminals.

    Except for any criminals who are using these plate scanners. Do you think the people responsible for finding cars using this system is above being bribed? What system of accountability is in place to prevent abuses? How would people even know if they were being illegally tracked by this system?

    The problem is not that the system might be used to catch criminals, it is that it almost certainly will be used to track innocent people, to avoid constitutional restrictions, and to make possible the enforcement of an even larger set of laws (as if we do not have an absurdly large and complex legal system as is).

  • Re:A sad world. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @09:52AM (#38123288)

    You live in a crowed city, and you should follow the rules of the system or get out.

    I know it is a foreign concept to most Americans, but... []

    Yes because the public knows better the job of the police than the police itself

    The Wikipedia articles just abound this morning: []

    Yes, the police serve the public, and that means that if the public feels that some aspect of police work is unacceptable then the police must not do it -- even if it is helpful in catching criminals. These days we have militarized police forces and vast, ever-expanding police power and so it is easy to forget that the police are there to serve the public. It is cruelly ironic that one of the most famous police forces in the country has the motto, "To protect and to serve."

  • Re:So what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Custard Horse ( 1527495 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @09:54AM (#38123316)
    Professional criminals will get around most security measures. Most criminals are not professional and do not have the wherewithal to switch plates due to either crass stupidity or lack or resources.
  • Re:A sad world. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by garyebickford ( 222422 ) <gar37bic@gma i l .com> on Monday November 21, 2011 @09:55AM (#38123320)

    In the better world, you and they are both sir - mutual respect, at least until proven otherwise. Thus the world avoids unnecessary conflict. It works that way most of the time, in several places I've lived.

  • Re:A sad world. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Inda ( 580031 ) <> on Monday November 21, 2011 @10:07AM (#38123432) Journal
    In the UK...

    We also have police sat in cars with ANPR (Automatic number plate recognition). Their buddy will sit in another car 500m down the road.

    We also have places like Bath and Bristol where all entrances and exits have ANPR. If you drive in one of these cities, make sure you are fully legal. If the camera spots you, you'll get pulled over further down the road.

    We also have them in London. Drive into London, make sure you pay your fee, or expect a nasty letter.

    The DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) also have mobile cameras. Expect a letter and fine if you drive past one and you don't have car tax.

    The police also have ANPR facing forward in their cars. If they drive pass you, and you are not legal, expect to be pulled over and fined. Even if you are parked, expect the fine.

    I welcome all the above. If you want to drive your car on the road in the UK, make sure you've fucking paid like the rest of us.
  • Re:Plain View (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rainsford ( 803085 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @10:22AM (#38123568)
    Except the cops aren't going to put a cop of every corner and write down every plate because it would be way too manpower intensive. And people know that, so they have a reasonable expectation that their movements won't be tracked by the police without any suspicion of wrongdoing. Technology makes casual surveillance so much easier that the cops can and will track your every move in public even if they have absolutely no reason to do so. In other words, technology isn't simply the next generation of something that police are already doing, it allows a much different surveillance approach that is more invasive than what was practical before. The law needs to control that kind of thing in a way that simply wasn't necessary before.
  • Re:A sad world. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by shentino ( 1139071 ) <> on Monday November 21, 2011 @10:29AM (#38123644)

    Actually, when they're corporations they are no longer called criminals.

    Doing wrong and breaking the law are two very different things now.

    Remember that the one who has the gold gets to *make* the rules, not merely get away with breaking them.

  • Re:A sad world. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @10:34AM (#38123688) Homepage

    Why do you have a plate on your car in the first place? It's an identification number... Yes, to identify you in case it's needed by the police or by anyone. Don't like it? Don't use a car then.

    Except we have around 6 decades or so in which this was a passive means of identification.

    Automatically scanning and recording of these things is a relatively new development, and the technology is outpacing the the law and understanding of how best to treat this.

    Some might argue that in the US, automatic plate identification and tracking is creeping a little close to the bounds of the 4th amendment [] in that there is no need for probably cause or judicial oversight.

    I'm glad that you're embracing a surveillance society and think we all need to as well ... but unfortunately, some of this automated technologies is somewhat eroding actual rights entrenched in both law and custom.

    From a certain perspective, it's hard not to see 1984 and Brave New World hurtling towards us as likely outcomes instead of just speculative fiction. Because law enforcement is charging ahead with these things under the assumption they can do anything they want, and it can take literally years to get these matters settled by the courts, at which point an awful lot of damage can have already been done.

  • Re:A sad world. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shentino ( 1139071 ) <> on Monday November 21, 2011 @10:34AM (#38123692)

    It's called "getting squeezed by the board of directors and the shareholders to deliver maximum profit, and having to duke it out in the market with several other businesses whose management has the same obligation"

    A corporation's moral woes are merely the extension of the greed of dispassionate shareholders that see fit to only care about the almighty dollar while being comfortably insulated from the gory details of how that money is "earned".

    And in a dog eat dog world where companies are ready to cut each other's throats to get ahead, anyone who ties to be nice and ethical will simply not survive.

    I would opine that vice presidency doesn't so much strip away your moral sense as filter out those who have it.

    Just like trying to be a politician will weed out happy horseshit folks who fail to pass the corporate kiss-ass test from special interests.

  • Re:A sad world. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by shentino ( 1139071 ) <> on Monday November 21, 2011 @10:36AM (#38123710)

    In theory you'd expect competition to weed out consumer unfriendly attitudes like this.

    In practice, raping the consumer's information is so profitable that nobody in their right mind would fail to do it.

    If everyone who can provide you an essential service refuses to give it to you unless you sell your soul, your only choices are cough up the ghost or go without.

  • Re:A sad world. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Monday November 21, 2011 @10:41AM (#38123762) Journal

    Correction: better with FEWER street thugs

    I'm not so sure.

    I'd rather have 1000 street thugs than one street thug who can be in 1000000 places at once.

  • Re:Panopticon (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pentalive ( 449155 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @10:52AM (#38123880) Journal

    Nice Idea, the watchers would never let it happen.

    BTW the watched in a panopticon don't get to watch as well. "The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched."(Wikipeda)

    I thinks this comes under the heading of "Whatever rule you make should apply equally to all people, including you"

  • Re:A sad world. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dave420 ( 699308 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @10:54AM (#38123910)
    The Data Protection Act would have a *lot* to say about that. The amount of data you would be able to request from said companies would bring them to their knees if even a handful of people requested it.
  • Re:A sad world. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chill ( 34294 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @11:01AM (#38123994) Journal

    Unless the criminals happen to be the cops.

    The people in charge of these are human, and a FOIA request will show a plethora of discipline problems. Many revolve around misuse of systems.

    For example, running illegal criminal checks on your daughter's new girlfriend. Finding out everywhere your wife's car has been seen. Who is she visiting at that apartment complex?

    There are numerous reports of hospital personnel snooping on patient records. Of IRS personnel snooping on private tax records. It isn't just celebrities who are the target, but political opponents and people with different religious or social views.

    A bit of creative editing (think Michael Moore or James Oâ(TM)Keefe) can generate a web of lies that is plausible enough to cause irreparable harm to the victim.

    Cardinal Richelieu is quoted as saying "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him."

    These system generate multi-volume epics.

  • Fake Plates (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fropenn ( 1116699 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @11:43AM (#38124466)
    It's not hard to make a fake license plate. There was an article a few years ago about students creating fake plates for their cars (using the license number from a teacher from their school), then driving around town and running through the red-light cameras to rack up tickets for their teacher.

    What worries me is the ability to get tickets, or other, more serious violations, based on something that is very easy to spoof. Mad at your neighbor? Run a red light, get him a ticket. Mad at someone who cut you off in traffic? Steal gasoline from a station and get him arrested.

    The more these plate-tracking systems are implemented and upheld in courts, the more we will see abuse of such systems.
  • Re:Panopticon (Score:4, Insightful)

    by witherstaff ( 713820 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @12:02PM (#38124784) Homepage
    I'm all for a social networking program that lets you sit your phone in a cradle on the dash while driving, capturing all plates that are auto-uploaded to an open database. The best part is this would allow the cop location services for speed traps to be reliable, instead of so many false positives. Anyone up for a project? While I've done android dev, I have not done any video processing work.
  • Re:A sad world. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by swalve ( 1980968 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @12:56PM (#38125428)
    I agree. It would be nice if people would automatically know and do the right thing, but they don't. All it takes is a few instances of doing the wrong thing and getting away with it to teach someone that doing the right thing is a game to be played.

    It reminds me of school. I was lucky enough to go to a couple of strict schools. The teachers and administrators were out in the halls, enforcing the rules. If your shoes weren't tied, you got pulled out of line and were told to tie them in a firm but friendly manner, probably with a lecture about how loose shoes can lead to falling down and breaking your neck. In high school, there was one administrator who was sort of in charge of one half of the school. He pulled you over for everything, made you fix it and then move along. Even if he didn't manage to grab you up at the time, he'll pull you aside the next day and let you know that he was on to your antics. He never had to give out detentions, and everyone was pretty happy with the setup. On the other side of the school, however, those administrators loved giving out detentions. You rarely got caught, but when it did, it costed you. Students had way worse "records", they were more stressed, and overall behavior and rule following was lower.

    You end up doing the right things because it was a hassle not to, and were forced to accept that the rules were the rules, and it paid to just go along to get along. Life is easy that way. There didn't have to be crackdowns, there was no stress about getting caught when 100 other people didn't.

    I look at the law the same way. If the laws are enforced uniformly, and you aren't subject to the whims and prejudices of the enforcers, you feel like you live in a just society. If there are bad laws, they get fixed because instead of a minority getting screwed, a majority gets screwed and demand a change.
  • the subject is not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by X0563511 ( 793323 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @01:26PM (#38125806) Homepage Journal

    part of the comment body.

    Stop putting your reply into it.

If it's not in the computer, it doesn't exist.