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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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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 21, 2011 @09:32AM (#38123116)

    ... of the sort of choices we have to make, now that storing things indefinitely is cheap. Do we want the panopticon? Do we rather live without constant oversight with the implication that some law-transgressors will remain uncaught? Given how we have laws impeding law enforcement, the choice ought to be a no-brainer. Yet even here people have trouble with the indications, apparently believing that if only you make sure you're nice and obedient and squeaky clean all the time, you cannot accidentally fall afoul of the law.

    Personally, I draw the line at storing, if you must deploy automated readers. Let them match against lists of known-stolen plates and flag occurrences for immediate action, perhaps store for later reference if immediate action is untenable. But don't go keep tabs on things that reasonably are to be taken as being okay. There's no need to store where every soccer mom has been, so don't. That is a basic privacy principle, even if not seeing everything means you miss things you didn't know yet were out of kilter when you were seeing them. For that sort of thing we should probably reserve for human police officers. Not because the machines aren't better, but because at the end of the day society is about people, not about turning them into obedient little automatons.

    Think about it. What do you really want?

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 21, 2011 @11:13AM (#38124116)

    Yes, horrible criminals such as myself:

      -- Forgot to get a new sticker for my plate for a month once
      -- Drove my fully insured, but unplated vehicle around the neighbourhood once to show a potential buyer it was okay once
      -- Drove a car to the mechanics with a mechanics/dealer plate that flipped over once
      -- Drove through a broken red light in the middle of the night once, after stopping and looking carefully, of course (not technically illegal, but something those cameras would have me in front of a judge for)
      -- Slid through another red light in an intersection frozen solid due to a water main break in the winter once (illegal, but a cop has a brain, unlike the camera)

    Yep. Lock me up and throw away the key. I'm a 5 time loser.

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

    by Miamicanes ( 730264 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @11:47AM (#38124530)

    Actually, it does. When the opportunity cost of collecting and analyzing data is high, it doesn't really matter whether it's being collected. When anybody can turn around and do data mining on it with trivial ease, it becomes quite important. Nobody cared about social security numbers being printed in recorded court documents until they became available online, and people didn't become *neurotic* about retroactively redacting them until thirdparties started scraping, OCR'ing, and data-mining those same documents.

    What I want to know is why, to this day, it's still legal for municipalities in Florida to sell liens, then record literally a semi-truck of liens recorded against "John Doe" at the courthouse ~2 years later, instead of being required to electronically associate those same liens with the property's globally-unique folio number, so somebody who goes to BUY the property can conveniently find them all in 12 seconds. Instead, cities like Miami can shrug and say, "We sold a lien to somebody 3 years ago, but we didn't keep track of who we sold it to, and we filed it with 300,000 other liens on the same day at the courthouse under "John Doe", so you're just going to have to wait 4 years until the person officially redeems it, or literally spend 3 months looking for a needle in a haystack one record at a time until you manage to trip over it. Assuming we didn't make a typo." It's positively *insane* how easy it is for municipalities in Florida to pile on fines without making even the most trivial effort to notify property owners, and record liens that could end with a property being sold for literally pennies on the thousand-dollar with breathtaking recklessness that seems almost inconceivable. You read in papers about how careless mortgage companies were with paperwork (their excuse for just making up replacement paperwork with robo-signers as they go along), but it's *nothing* compared to how simultaneously careless Florida municipalities are allowed to be, and how ruthless they're allowed to be in spite of their carelessness.

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

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @12:15PM (#38124924) Journal
    Then they can correlate it, work out when you are unlikely to be at home, and use that time to burgle your house (or sell the information to gangs who will do it).
  • Re:Fake Plates (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mr Krinkle ( 112489 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @03:57PM (#38127840) Homepage

    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.

    Lots of police cars have automagic plate scanners that pop up vehicle type, etc etc.
    So don't have the right type of car, you run a risk of getting a NASTY ticket for that type of nonsense. Also "spoofing" a known plate is a reason for more complete monitoring. It would catch this immediately, "this plate is here, and over here at the same time. dispatch two officers to investigate both vehicles"
    teacher gets annoyed for being pulled over, and student gets a nasty ticket.

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