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Pennsylvania license plate reader SUV camouflaged as Google Street View vehicle (vice.com)
325 points by uptown on May 12, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 127 comments

I think this could be one of those really tasteless jokes that the people who are stationed in truck made. I'd imagine it gets pretty boring in the car, and someone thought it would be funny. It probably is funny to them, but taken out of context it looks really bad.

Maybe I am the only one, but I thought it was hilarious...especially considered from a satirical context.

We should definitely raise the discussion about government surveillance and how much (or in my opinion how little) should and should not be allowed. We should also discuss how much _private_ corporation spying should and should not be allowed (cough cough Google...partly why I find this is funny).

But this license plate reader car would exist with or without the crudely printed maps logo, let's not pretend it's supposed to be part of some "elaborate" disguise for some new form of government surveillance. This would also imply Google spying on you is ok...which I don't think it is.

Given the crudeness of the sign, it's a likely explanation. You'd think that if they wanted to pretend to be something they aren't they would have put in a bit more effort.

Repo men use these setups to find cars to repo, and they can sell the slurped up data to companies who in turn sell it to insurance companies, law enforcement, banks, and security companies.

First result from google on subject: http://abc7.com/news/repo-industry-collecting-data-on-you/37...

yes..bad. Very, very bad.

I expect Google lawsuits to also be hitting them very soon. (Liable maybe? It leads one to believe google is working with them, giving a bad representation to Google.)

On another note: This kind of "passive" plate reading has got to stop. It's a huge snowball waiting to happen. Next they put it on highways...traffic lights...at which point any governmental agency will know where you went..., when you went..., anytime..., ALL without a warrant....

How do we stop this encroachment on our liberties??

Note: Only speaking about the U.S.A., where this activity IS highly illegal and violates our constitutional rights.

I don't get why they need this data to begin with. They don't need to know what we're thinking, they put those ideas in our heads to begin with. They don't need to know what we're doing, we are following their normative social practices and committing willingly to 30+ year stints of wage slavery in support of their dominant world position.

I wish people would take more exception to the control of their lives than they do to its observation. Knowing where you're going does not encroach on your liberties as much as convincing you to go where they want you 5 days a week, exhausting your motivation, and telling you how to react to it all.

You are dead-on here. 30 year mortgage - normal. 2 working parents - normal. 401k plan - normal. None of these things are really helping you to be in charge of your own destiny, but they sure are helping the government and wall street.

I'm not convinced by this narrative.

Do you have a drop-in compatible comprehensive alternative system?

Also, it's not like life today exists in a vacuum, a lot of history has passed to get us here.

Although I do believe there are better systems, and that adopting one is ultimately a matter of collective choice, it's not clear to me how to get there form here, what what 'there' even looks like.

To be fair, this area of Philadelphia has a number of pretty sensitive government buildings located nearby. City hall, Independence Hall, the US Mint and the Federal Reserve are all within a few blocks of where this car was found.

That said, Philadelphia's parking ticket authority uses these license plate readers to identify vehicles that have been parked in a spot for longer than the allowed time. I'm sure that data gets fed into other databases as well, however.

Heh, Steve Jobs unknowingly solved this problem years ago. Apparently he didn't want a license plate in order to protect his privacy, before plate scanners were a thing. In California you have a certain amount of time after buying a car to get the plate. Steve leased a new car at that interval, and never had a plate.

Ha! When I lived in Palo alto I kept dealer plates on for three years before receiving a ticket: ticket was for speeding, the no plates part cost me all of $10 and a 2 min police inspection, after which the card board plates went right back on.

    When I lived in Palo alto I kept dealer plates on for three years
You meant the special plate with "DLR" embossed vertically on the left?

Sorry, I meant the cardboard advertisements for the dealership.

That loophole has been reduced to 90 days now and new bill has been introduced to require new passenger cars to be issued with a temp license plate just like many other states do.[1]

[1]: http://www.ktvu.com/news/4680503-story

It's been a year since the bill was introduced and it appears to be languishing in the Senate: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billHistoryClient.x...

A new jobs bill.

Or was it to protect him from parking fines? Like asshole teritory?

Woah, I am impressed!

Google should sue for trademark infringement.

Should it be illegal? License plates are in public view, so it seems they're meant to identify the vehicle for whomever sees them.

If people have the right to record that number when reporting a crime (which they sometimes do) then surely the government has the right to keep track of it as well. That is presumably why they issue the plates and require them to be visible to begin with.

It seems unreasonable to allow the existence of license plates and then complain when they're being used for their intended purpose.

I think the difference is is the scope.

For example: http://gizmodo.com/feds-are-spying-on-millions-of-cars-with-...

The Feds are tracking millions of vehicles traveling interstate highways. I heard at a conference that LPR data can at a minimum provide vehicle location and in some cases historical imagery and video through the I-95/I-81/I-87 corridor from Florida to Canada.

That's different than taking security footage at a bank robbery and putting out a bolo for a White Ford Bronco, plate 12345.

There's a similar controversy about Facebook facial recognition. My face isn't a secret -- but at some point large entities (commercial or government) tracking my movements crosses a line that is something more than observation of publicly viewable data.

Facebook didn't issue you your face, and people didn't necessarily sign up for facebook intending for all of their photos to be trackable through facial recognition. The government did issue you license plates specifically to be able to track you. I understand people being paranoid that they've gotten better at their job, but that in and of itself isn't abusive.

A headline like "Feds Are Spying on Millions of Cars With License Plate Readers" implies that the government is doing something nefarious that it doesn't have a right to do, which isn't the case. They're entitled to track your license plate as much as they please.

> The government did issue you license plates specifically to be able to track you.

They issued the plate so that when something happens involving a car, they can look at that car and figure out who the owner is.

That's quite different from tracking. If you have enough license plate readers all over the city, you can get a pretty good picture of all the movements I make. And store them for long periods of time.

License plates were issued to identify the owner of a car. Not to comprehensibly track the movement of all car owners and be able to look up every place I went to in the last year or longer.

The Federal government doesn't issue license plates, so the ability of the Feds to track your movements is a very similar comparison to Facebook. That tracking data isn't just used for criminal investigation... it's sold to insurance companies and other parties.

IIRC, there was a supreme Court case a little while ago that ruled the government couldn't put a tracking device on your car without a warrant; I wonder if there's an argument to be made that, with the prevalence of plate readers, machine-readable license plates are such a tracking decide.

It's more people complaining about unforeseen possible use cases that are now seen and possible rather than the underlying bits of tech that make it possible. (What, should we make cameras illegal?) But because aspects of our law have a tradition of "if it's not explicitly illegal, it's legal, unless you get sued for it and the judges decide it's illegal" then it is not a bad idea to nip these sorts of unintended purposes in the bud with an explicit law before someone actually does it and we have to wait for a long court battle for it to be resolved. (And when that someone is the government, the odds aren't exactly 50-50.)

The harmful use cases are not only entirely forseen, but also realized at this point. Many times over. Government use of bulk data needs to be regulated. Unfortunately, our government has a bit of an accountability problem, so such regulation may not even be useful.

I don't think it was foreseen when license plates were created the harmful use case of having a cop at every street corner with photographic memory and accurate speed measuring abilities who occasionally notes cars down for speeding / running a red light and who is networked with every other cop all working together reporting on such-and-such car now at position x,y while a team at HQ is constantly updating large maps with tacks showing the last known location of car x,y. Agree that the modern tech equivalent of the above has already been happening to various extents. Indeed we're fast approaching a time when we'll have enough sensors-of-all-sorts penetration to be able to track the whereabouts of anything of interest worldwide -- the underlying geospatial tech to make that scale already exists.

>I don't think it was foreseen when license plates were created the harmful use case of having a cop at every street corner with photographic memory and accurate speed measuring abilities who occasionally notes cars down for speeding (...)

That's not a harmful use case. That's an efficient implementation of the intended use case.

It's like a modern take on the "cable company" FBI van. Except now local law enforcement is able to deploy advanced mass data-gathering technology without any proper training or framework for handling said data appropriately.

Google should sue them for misusing their trademark.

Implying Google hasn't sanctioned it, like undercover NYPD taxi cabs.

Edit: I'm not saying that's what happened, I'm pointing out that Google's statements so far don't exclude that possibility.

> like undercover NYPD taxi cabs.

Amusingly, these are the easiest unmarked NYPD vehicles to spot. They're the only yellow cabs in the city with radio antennas.

They also give themselves away when they stop for minorities.

Amusing, for sure, but I'm fairly certain the cops driving yellow cabs don't actually take any fares.

I've also seen uniformed cops driving those cabs before.

That was kind of my point. They're not stopping to give a requested lift.

I might be wrong about this, but I was under the impression that due to sovereign immunity you cannot actually sue states for trademark infringement.

I don't think trademarks are restricted like that. Don't you have to actually be engaged in trade to violate a trademark?

Usually trademark infringement hinges on "likelihood of confusion" and there are factors that contribute/detract from that: http://www.bitlaw.com/trademark/infringe.html#factors

I think it would be trivial for Google to demonstrate that this group is attempting to deceive the public to take advantage of the good will Google has and questionable behavior - like we have here - could negatively impact Google's brand.

From that page (my emphasis):

> In a nutshell, a plaintiff in a trademark case has the burden of proving that the defendant's use of a mark has created a likelihood-of-confusion about the origin of the defendant's goods or services.

In this case, the defendant was not selling goods or services i.e., not engaging in trade.

Note that streetview cars are not only for maps, they're also wardriving cars. They collect information on Wi-Fi networks, so then you can map a router MAC address to a physical location. They used to sniff wifi traffic too.

There was a tool (http://samy.pl/mapxss/) that allowed you to interface that system. When I moved to a new home, my router appeared on the old location for a few weeks, and then it got updated to the new one. Creepy.

I wouldn't be surprised if this was due to Android reporting MAC address and GPS data back to Google, rather than a wardriving car.

Or "games" such as Ingress.

Also with android phones: Identifying a known nearby wifi network can allow a faster estimate of the phone's location than waiting for a GPS fix.

In a weird way, one privacy concern helps mask another: People spend time worrying that nefarious phone-software can locate itself even with GPS disabled... rather than worrying about nefarious server-software using a vast fleet of strangers' phones to locate and surveil their wireless equipment.

Why equip cars and pay drivers to do this when ordinary people's Android phones can report WiFi MAC addresses, signal strengths, and GPS coordinates to Google?

Android users are likely the ones wardriving without even realizing it.

Unless I'm misremembering Android asks you for permission to do that. So the might actually realize.

Seems like they are suggesting that Google Streetview cars aren't government spy vehicles. I had never come to that conclusion myself.


He's suggesting that even legitimate Google Streetview cars are helping government surveillance. We know Google's been asked to be a party to surveillance before - it's a good cover for the government to get data from large-scale war-driving, etc. Not outside the realms of possibility, but I suspect there's likely another explanation here.

This is actually pretty terrifying when you follow this to its logical conclusion.

You're going after license plates, which are regulated by state governments. It's illegal to obfuscate them, so there's no way to conceal your identity like you can with some the CCTV stuff. It's essentially an easy, legal way to keep tabs on your population. As the article pointed out, you can also tie this to all kinds of available data, and start creating profiles for people.

This is really scary, scary stuff.

    > This is really scary, scary stuff
Perhaps. It's been happening for a decade in the UK though: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_number_plate_recogni...

    > Vehicle movements on UK roads are recorded by a
    > network of nearly 8000 cameras capturing between 25
    > and 30 million ANPR ‘read’ records daily. These
    > records are stored for up to two years in the 
    > National ANPR Data Centre
Generally no effort is made to disguise it. Police cars have the letters ANPR stamped on them in big letters if they're carrying one.

The profiling you're worried about happening is explicitly touted as an aim of the UK government effort.

The UK approach often appears to be pro-surveillance, and then letting the courts work out what constitutes reasonable usage, a luxury afforded by having such a robust and independent legislature.

I agree that this part is scary, but it isn't news.

I first heard about license-plate readers back in 2008, and at that point police could already take a wired-up squad car for a cruise through a grocery store parking lot, scanning a couple hundred plates. Onboard software would run the numbers for outstanding warrants or lapsed registrations, and alert the officer.

This has already been going on for years. The capacity to mine that data effectively is slightly more recent, but I'm sure the logfiles exist.

I first saw license plate identification by computer in 1982. Just sayin..

>>It's illegal to obfuscate them, so there's no way to conceal your identity like you can with some the CCTV stuff

You can form an LLC in a state that allows for some amount of anonymity, like New Mexico, and then register the vehicle under the LLC's name.

Edit: Nothing is fully anonymous, of course, so the government can backtrack it, but they probably don't bother unless there's some specific incident.

This seems trivial to circumvent by (1) tying into New Mexico's database or (2) cross-sectioning license plates + facial recognition databases the first time you drive through a traffic light; so trivial that the time and expense of the LLC seems moot.

Having worked in somewhat similar spaces in the past, I doubt that (1) would be implemented, at least for the broad gathering/analytics/etc. I strongly suspect resolving company to person name would only happen manually, and only because of some specific request or incident.

As for (2), well, yes...facial recognition is a different problem.

Driving has never been anonymous. The license plate is readable from a distance for a reason.

Readable, sure. They provided a way to identify the owners of specific cars without stopping them.

But with the advent of digital photography, image recognition, and computerized databases, they do something very different. They make it possible to track everyone passing through a place, and to correlate every sighting of someone to build up a profile of their life.

Sure, surveillance isn't novel. But a sufficient quantitative difference becomes a qualitative difference. Bulk tracking of everyone in a city is something completely new, and there's good reason to be uncomfortable with it.

I don't disagree with your facts but I also don't think they lead to your conclusion. One does not expect privacy in public, by definition.

Privacy isn't a simple Boolean value; there are degrees of privacy that depend on what's protected, the environment/situation, cultural expectations and awareness, and many other variables. For example, you expect privacy for your body because you wear clothes, even though you "have no expectation of privacy" because you are in public.

When the laws requiring license plates were originally created, there was a certain understanding about how that would impact society. Sure, anybody could see them, but you needed a lot of expensive manpower to track one person for a long time or everybody at any time. The impact of having the data "in public" was inherently limited.

Now that technology has removed that limitation, the consequences of having a license plate in public view have changed. Pretending that this new situation is addressed with the outdated logic we used to define "no pubic expectation of privacy" assumes that the old definitions of privacy are still valid, which is patently incorrect.

It's the accumulation and correlation of the data that's the problem. At a high enough density you essentially have everyone being followed their entire lives. Formerly if the police wanted to know everywhere that a person visited because they suspected them of crime X they'd have to invest a certain level of resources which means targets had to be chosen judiciously. Now we're approaching a point where they can just trawl everyone's movements looking for anything they like, and as the algorithms get better and the density of things like CCTV and the license plate readers increases it gets easier and easier to follow anyone back in time.

IF the police were filled with perfect angels and laws were all perfectly reasonable and just allowing that might approach being ok. Instead we have a police force made of people who do things like harass whistle blowers who reveal corruption or cover ups or people they have personal vendettas against (or unrequited love toward).

This is clearly true, but legally speaking I think it's time we start reevaluating as a society how far we let this swing. Technology has changed the meaning of no reasonable expectation of privacy dramatically. 100 years ago you couldn't expect not to be overheard or followed (at great cost per individual followed). Today you can't expect not to be recorded and location tracked at all times and it's low cost per person so everyone can be followed and surveiled all the time.

We can disagree if this is a net positive or negative to society, but IMO a lot of folks are treating it as if nothing has changed because the core law hasn't changed. That's missing the point - the scale change is very significant.

One also doesn't expect to look over their shoulder and be constantly stalked. But it's okay because it is the government?

Said from a throwaway account?

It's likely possible to figure out your identity from what, when, and where you post online publicly... Especially by someone that has the resources to collect and data mine much of what is posted.

Would that be ok?

I don't think so, unless it's part of a legal and targeted investigation.

My throwaway account is as anonymous as yours. I use it because it's been logged in in Chrome for the last five years and I'm lazy. I don't see how "JTxt" differs from "thrownaway2424"

Someone in the 1930's could write down a plate and with a lot of effort transform that into a name. Passively collecting the names of everyone that happens to go past a camera is qualitatively different.

And walking?

Unless you walk around wearing a license plate around your neck, I'm not sure how it's relevant here.

One could argue that you're wearing a license plate 'on' your neck. Facial recognition and that.

Don't forget "Gait DNA"[0] for tracking your movement through a crowd, even when your face can't be seen.

[0] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspon...

I wear my face above my neck, thanks.

Your phone is probably in your pocket.

I have the choice to leave my phone at home, or take out the battery, or if I'm feeling incredibly paranoid even stick it in a Faraday cage. My face, is my face.

What about it?

Facial recognition software.

Again I'm not really seeing your point. One goes about in public "openly and notoriously" as the legal jargon goes. It is expected that one's face would be recognized.

I really can't stand people who use "Not seeing your point" as a substitute for "Disagree with your point."

I'm actually using it as shorthand for "your sentence fragments do not amount to an argument."

Trust me, that's not what it's shorthand for.

Not to be at all flip... but it's another good reason to bike instead.

Compared to what Google/Apple/Facebook know about you? It's not really that scary. Government is accountable, at least in theory. With private services, you're more or less out of luck, if you want to live a normal life surrounded by technology.

> Government is accountable

that is funny right there....

>With private services, you're more or less out of luck,

In a way, but last I checked google nor facebook are legally empowered to Arrest, Put me in a Cage, Raid my Home at 3am, Shoot my dog, Detonate Explosives in my children face or even Kill Me.

So yes google violates your privacy, to sell you shit, the government violates your privacy to put you in a cage or kill you. I am more concerned with the latter...

Is that what the vans are doing though? Are they out there to hunt innocent people so they can kill them? Or are they trying to catch people they are looking for already, except more efficiently?

In other words are they doing what we have in essence ask them to do for us, by and large?

Depends on your Definition of "innocent" and crime

Since I do not get my ethics or morality from the government or law I do not view simply breaking one of the millions of laws as criminal, a crime to me has to have a complaining victim, no victim no crime.

Thus the state enforcing the thousands of victim-less crimes, or even crimes "against the state" are immoral, and unethical.

Further I find the governments use of ALPR data to build massive on going databases that are used for government and private uses to be offensive.

It is sad you do not

It doesn't matter why they're collecting the information. Once they have it, they have to power to do far worse things with it than Google.

No, I'd say _why_ is the central question. If it's a corrupt city supervisor spying on foes, that's contrary to their purview, if it's to enforce laws, that is under their duties.

It's like saying, well, we don't care why facebook collects all that information, they may as well sell it all to any bidder.

I think you might be missing my point. Even if they have the best of intentions for collecting the data, once they have it, anyone who has access to it can use it for evil.

I see you have a much greater trust and respect for government than I

I am a libertarian, I view 99% of government as immoral and unethical

I think myself as being skeptical of government, however, I don't think the default for me is "they're bad" rather "let's see what tho is about". It could be for good, it could be bad. Let's look at it. If bad, we can, if we have the will, change it, in many cases.

The Democratic National Convention will be in Philadelphia in the next few months. Possibly it's related to that.

If tracking citizens is legal and ok, then why do they have to hide it?

Because it's harder to track the people you want to track when they know you're doing it.

They might not be comfortably sure it will remain legal if they don't minimize the visibility of their technically legal activity.

This crowd is already aware that the public is more willing to entrust broad, deeply personal datasets to profit-seeking corporations than to a government which ostensibly serves them. But the people running the surveillance state seem to always live in a parallel unreality, where their work is presented as unimpeachably noble and necessary. To me, the silver lining in this story is the indication that the people operating the surveillance machine understand that we find their work strictly more creepy than the data collection conducted by non-transparent, unaccountable, explicitly self-serving corporations.

Google can't put me in a box for the rest of my life. At least not yet.

When and how did "Protect and Serve" become "Sneek and Spy"?

I find it strange people here are worried about license plate readers (which only record slivers of your location data) while at the same time they carry a phone that transmits realtime location data to many companies (the manufacturer, your provider, google or apple, and plus all the apps you have installed). And if your car is less than 10 years old it probably has a phone installed in it doing the same thing.

That's projection; maybe you carry around a tracking device everywhere you go, but that isn't universal. I know an increasing number of people that are switching back to landlines (and other options like voip).

> car ... probably has a phone

Just like "smart" TVs, that's a feature that some of us will never buy.

These measures will work for a while, but eventually there will be a video log of everywhere you travel. Unless you wear a mask, disguise your gait, and mix with other people doing the same thing, They will know.

I'm sure President Trump with be a wise steward of his new security apparatus.

> a feature that some of us will never buy.

Don't worry, it will be included in the price. Of nearly every thing worth more than a few hundred bucks (and counting down).

The Kindle having a built-in GSM SIM was just the beginning.

Well what is the worst case scenario here? A google-like site where you could type in any plate and see its entire history ( aggregated from all the licence plate scanner sources )?

There's no end to how bad this could be. Say with a free account you can see their history for the last 10 days but with a paid account you can have unlimited access!

Also with the paid account, you can geofence any license plate and get SMS notifications when they go outside ( or inside ) a boundary.

Where does it stop?

>Well what is the worst case scenario here?

Your car is spotted near a location that at one time in the past sold something to a drug dealer/grower/manufacture, Then you get your home raided (and possibly your dog killed, and children get to have flash bangs detonated in their beds/faces) all because your car was spotted some place the police took an interest in...


>Well what is the worst case scenario here?

Public realtime video of every inch of the earth, and I honestly believe there is nothing we can do to stop it.

This was definitely alluded to in Snow Crash, with the gargoyle / CIC stringer concept

There's several things to worry about:

1. ALPR, when positioned strategically, can be as effective (if not more so) than GPS. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that police need a court order to attach a GPS tracker to a suspect's car, but no such order is needed for ALPR. They're also passive, so there's no way to detect them, and you can't really avoid them when driving. They can also be combined with stationary cameras to increase the surveillance area.

2. The mobile phone data of a carrier is only searchable with a warrant. Some agencies use Stingrays without a warrant (thanks, Baltimore City, for the heads up) to track people illegally, but they would need many deployed throughout an area to triangulate, and they wouldn't be as accurate.

3. You can turn a phone off, but you can't make a car invisible. (You could change the plates, but 99.99999999% of the citizens being tracked have no reason, nor access, to do this)

4. Access to the data is basically unrestricted to the police force, and they can keep it for a long time, and they have no oversight. The ACLU says that in 45 states there are no laws on how long police can keep the records.

5. They can be abused easily:

"In 1998, a Washington D.C. police lieutenant pleaded guilty to extortion after blackmailing the owners of vehicles parked near a gay bar.[45] In 2015, the Los Angeles Police Department proposed sending letters to the home addresses of all vehicles that enter areas of high prostitution.[46][47][48]" [1] In NYC, they used it to track people who went to a mosque in Queens, amongst other places. [2]

What's funny is that private companies have been operating ANPR units for years, and have private databases you can pay to search, similar to other data-selling companies that people like private investigators and creditors have been using for the past 15 years.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_number_plate_recogni... [2] http://www.ap.org/Content/AP-In-The-News/2012/Newark-mayor-s...

Only one of those organizations has a whole bunch of guns and the ability to prosecute you at will for real or perceived violations of law (or insult).

Last I checked, Postmates ain't throwing journalists in jail for whistleblowing.

But every company that has the data is a potential government source. How many do you think willing share data? How many do you will give it up at first request from the DoJ or DoD?

You forget the cost/benefit analysis of giving up that data, however - and it is not shared with the government by default and by nature of being collected, unlike automated plate readers.

If the data they're collecting isn't being used in an active investigation then its probably subject to FOIA requests. So, perhaps the effort to keep it under wraps is to avoid a flood of FOIA requests for the data.

It's a bizarre to see how many people are upset when gun laws even hint at some regulation, but being spied on and loss of privacy is not even close to being an issue for them. Isn't encroachment on personal lives a threat many times worse?

"how many people are upset when gun laws even hint at some regulation, but being spied on and loss of privacy is not even close to being an issue for them"

I don't think this is true at all, at least in my experience. The gun owners I know are against more gun laws (we already have 20,000 federal ones as it is) and VERY against a loss of privacy. They tie the two together often as examples of government over-reach. In fact, many are against gun registrations because it is a loss of privacy.

I think that privacy is definitely an issue for them, and they most certainly view losing it as a threat.

It's odd that you don't see why guns are potentially more important. Because without guns or money (also something the left enjoys taking) the population is helpless to fight things like "being spied on and the loss of privacy".

It's a needless way to alienate State and citizenry.

Just say what it is on the outside.

doesn't seems like a very good disguise

how often do you see a google streetview car?

shouldn't about 1 or 2 passes a year get them the info they need?

if you saw a google streetview car in the same neighborhood, 5 or 6 times in the same week wouldn't it seem highly unusual?


seems like someone got overly cleaver to me

that the apparent sanctity of Google Streetview Cars was violated, and that people seem upset, seems utterly laughable to me

Makes me wonder what will happen when an average phone will be able to do ANPR easily...

They have been able to for years now.[0][1] If you want to wonder, imagine this tech being used to identify faces instead of plates.[2]




Don't think phone; think "car". Every computer-driven car will also be an ANPR/face-recognition vehicle that records and collects data about every single human and vehicle that it passes during the day, and sends that data back to its owner (which isn't you, it's Apple/Google/Tesla/Uber/Ford/whoever).

Companies with a self-driving car fleet will have fantastic amounts of information, considerably exceeding the U.S. spy agencies and law enforcement, about the movements of U.S. persons.

not really useful unless you also happen to have access to a license plate database.

Well, you have a data recorder. Add time, you have your data that you can store in a database.

Recording daily activities and movements of cars (uniquely identifiable by plates) is pretty interesting already, associating cars to persons can be made later.

You might even be able to detect suspicious activity, e.g. "KNHX-631 usually just commutes to and from work (shows up going downtown at around 8:30 every day, shows up going uptown 17:30 every day) and one day it showed up at 2:30 driving to leave the city, and returned at 5:30. There's a person reported missing that night..."

what's wrong with government spy truck? Did someone come to the sudden realization that there are sanctioned government agencies whose sole job is to spy?

Nothing other than the fact that it's the slippery slope of "let me search X if you have nothing to hide". For why it's scary, read this comment just below: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11683721

I would argue that there is a difference between searching and spying/surveillance

With enough of these in a city police etc. can track every single person in the city at little to no cost with accuracy only limited by the density of these readers. It's within spitting distance of having a GPS tracker on every car in the city 24/7.

I'd be willing to accept them if they only captured and stored information on people with warrants or under investigation but without any cause police shouldn't be able to track my every movement and store that data.

As the article says, Philadelphia PD already has 10 trucks outfitted with plate readers that they don't feel any need to hide or disguise.

The question is what's different about this one that it needs to be disguised?

What is the source of your implication that there is something wrong? No one is implying that. All too often people interpret headlines as indications that something is wrong and instantly feel the need to "react." (typically by dividing into camps of denial and counterattack)

It's simply an announcement. You're free as an American to do what you like using the benefit of this free information. It could just as well have been stated like this:

"Hey everyone. Just so you know: If you see a truck around that has a Google logo on it and you think that you can act as if it's going to be taking a picture here and there for map purposes and blur out your face, it's not."

"In fact, it appears to be owned by the government and we don't know exactly what it's doing. So, if you happen to be considering some activity, such as taking a shortcut through a neighborhood which would automatically delegate you a suspect due to your race not fitting in, etc., you might want to re-consider, since we have no idea what the legally-collected data from this vehicle will be used for."

I think the novelty of it is because it is trying to hide as a Google vehicle. There are lots of Google employees here (and even more friends Googlers) and they be interested to find out that the government is hijacking their brand for surveillance.

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