Wednesday, May 24, 2006

If You Think NSA Phone Data is Scary...

Then check THIS out:

The infra-red cameras are capable of reading license plates at triple digit speeds AND across up to four lanes of traffic AND at angles which I would not have believed capable, at up to 1,500 different license plates per minute per eight hour shift. Automatically.

At first glance, this new technology seems quite the boon for law enforcement. It's basically a program to read license plates and compare them to a list (stolen vehicles, vehicles involved in felonies, etc.), and if there's a match, to alert the officer. of the first extras added seems to have been the ubiquitous GPS receiver.

Ah, I see the light dawning.

The feature is called 'Geo-fencing'. In a nutshell, 'Geo-fencing' is simply inputting a GPS location cross-indexed with a list of license plates that shouldn't be anywhere near the location. For instance, the GPS coordinates of a school, cross-indexed with the license plates of your local sex offenders. Or the GPS coordinates of a house, indexed with the license plates belonging to Protective Order suspects.Doesn't sound too bad, until you realize that the co-ordinats and the index can be whatever the local agency deems necessary.

Here's where it gets really interesting:

Once in [the] database, anyone who has access can search the database by license plate number, location, time of day, or other variable or combination of variables.

[With e]nough patrol cars retrofitted with one of these systems and -- deliberately or not -- the government will have a record of where each and every car in the area is at least once per shift.The potential for abuse is awe-inspiring.

(This from an LEO with 18+ years' experience on the force, by the way.)

For criminal investigations, this stuff is likely a godsend. On the other hand, one bad guy, and you have serious problems:

Don't like guns? Run one of your patrol cars through gunshop parking lots, and see where else those plates have been. It's for the children, right?

Same applies to, say, Republican or Democratic functions--or whatever ELSE some local or State (or national) figure-with-power doesn't like.

As with NSA phone-records--it's not necessarily the data--it's the moral quality of the individuals keeping or using the data that counts. Obviously, as technology advances, the stakes get higher...


steveegg said...

You can bet there's going to be a push to use this technology as a leaping-off point for mileage-based taxation of vehicles.

M.Z. said...

There are better ways to accomplish that goal. In London they actually attach meters to the trucks to track their mileage in the city and tax them accordingly. Macquiere/Cintra have implemented the camera technology to assess tolls on their freeway in Canada. Part of the Indiana toll road lease stipulates that Macquiere/Cintra have to implement the same technology within 5 years on the ITR. It is pretty fascinating stuff.

The National Avenue project looks pretty interesting as well, but that is private business setting that up. I'm afraid the day is coming where it will be near impossible to live anonymously.