The Newest Growth Market For License Plate Readers Is Those Assholes Running The Local Homeowners Association

from the 'we-feel-people-don't-hate-us-enough-already' dept

Everyone loves surveillance creep. Well, by everyone, I mean the government and the vendors that sell to them. Automatic license plate readers have made their way from police cruisers to malls, as has facial recognition tech that very often fails to actually recognize people.

The “everyone” may now include the near-fascist organizations turning neighborhoods into glittering shrines of conformity. I’m talking about homeowners’ associations — the anal-retentive busybodies who want to make sure your grass is cut to the correct length and that no one’s offending passersby with creative mailboxes.

The Denver Post reports the newest customers for surveillance tech is HOAs and gated communities.

License plate readers posted at both entrances to an upscale Aurora neighborhood snapped pictures of passing cars Wednesday, recording the type, color and license plate number of each vehicle and inputting that information into a database.

Such technology used to be relegated to law enforcement. But these cameras were purchased by the local homeowner association in January after a few burglaries of cars and a home in the neighborhood. Red signs near the cameras warn passersby of “24/7 Video Recording.”

“It’s going to keep us safer,” said Richard Warshaw, president of the Bel-Aire Estates Owners Association.

I don’t want to make too many assumptions, but click through to take a look at Richard Warshaw, who appears to be exactly the way I’d expect him to look.

Anyway, this is the growth market for vendors with surveillance tech to sell. Spy gadgets have gone from military to police to business owners to bitter busybodies who want to know everything about everyone who passes through their carefully — and forcefully — curated neighborhoods.

Flock Safety appears to be one of the bigger players in the HOA ALPR business. Its site makes a handful of dubious claims in the space of a single splash box, including the audacious assertion that only its product prevents crime.

I attempted to discuss this claim with the FlockBot, but only got asked for my email address and phone number so the company could pitch some of its camera “solutions” that *squints at screenshots* “capture vehicle lice plates.”

This only raises my confidence in the quality of Flock’s products.

Back at the Denver HOA, it appears the private surveillance approval process isn’t that much different than the public surveillance approval process. In other words, input from the general public is ignored.

Warshaw said the five-person board of the homeowner association decided to add the three cameras and use money from the neighborhood’s dues to pay for it. The entire 75-home neighborhood did not vote on the decision, but Warshaw said he hadn’t heard any negative feedback.

Following government precedent, the HOA’s deployment of ALPRs is also pretty much unjustifiable.

Warshaw, who has lived in the neighborhood since 2005, admitted that one home burglary in 15 years is not exactly a rash of crime.

Warshaw insists the product makes residents “feel safer.” This is a really curious [pronounced “bullshit”] claim, considering residents don’t appear to have been asked their opinion, before or after the purchase.

I guess the only opinion that matters is that of the “leadership,” whether it’s a city council approving the tech behind closed doors or HOAs doing the same thing. As the Denver Post points out, surveillance tech deployment continues to increase while crime rates continue to decline. These declines preceded the mass rollout of ALPRs, Stingrays, and facial recognition tech, strongly suggesting law enforcement agencies (and HOAs!) had ways to deal with criminal activity that didn’t involve pointing invasive tech in the direction of non-criminals.

Finally, Flock Safety — the preferred provider of HOA surveillance tech — makes a completely incongruous, if not completely impossible, claim on its website. Whoever approved this copy should be forced to stand naked in front of the nearest CCTV camera until I get tired of mocking them.

Please explain to me how “privacy” is being “protected” by giving law enforcement instant access to license plate photos. The FlockBot remains silent on the issue, but really really really wants to annoy you with emails and sales rep calls.

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Companies: flock safety

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Comments on “The Newest Growth Market For License Plate Readers Is Those Assholes Running The Local Homeowners Association”

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53 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: mini-governments

correct.

HOA’s are indeed "mini-governments" in most cases –they effectively have taxing power (annual dues & special assessments), legislative power to create/revise detailed local rules and judicial power to interpret those rules and levy fines on alleged violators.

The real power of HOA’s comes from genuine local governments who ultimately enforce HOA authority.
Cozy deals between real estate developers and local politicians created these HOA-governments in violation of most local and state charters/constitutions.

Bruce C. says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

There are places in the country where it’s almost impossible to get away from them, or you can’t find houses in your price range without an HOA.

Also if you prefer a high rise or townhouse community, every condo association is an HOA by another name.

To be fair, this just automates something that was already being done by gate guards at many communities before they let you in as a visitor. The gate guards would frequently take a snap of your license plate as you went in.

Anonymous Coward says:

HOAs

It’s no secret the vast majority of HOAs suck. But weirdly enough, you *choose* to live in an HOA neighborhood, and by doing so, you’re one of the cogs of the HOA. Don’t like what the HOA does? Use your vote, get on the board, reverse unpopular decisions or, hell, dissolve the HOA. If you find that you can’t get enough other people on board with your ideas, the problem is not ‘the HOA’ – it’s you. In the case cited, it sounds like there’s 70 other members who just can’t be arsed to attend a meeting and say “we don’t need that camera, let’s spend the money on [fill in the blank] instead”, as is common.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: HOAs

You are a bit deluded. And blaming the victim has become old and tired, try something new.

The HOA has a fiduciary responsibility to the homeowners and must spend dues properly and in accordance with the budget set forth at public HOA meetings. This could end up in court, not sure if it breaches the requirements for embezzlement but it sure is mis spending HOA dues that were intended for other purposes, I imagine that soon the HOA will proclaim they need to increase dues due to a shortfall.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: HOAs

This is hardly victim-blaming. HOA means Home Owners’ Association. When you move into an HOA neighborhood and pay your dues you are a homeowner and part of the association. If one can be a victim of themselves then sure, I guess there can be a victim in this scenario. But far more likely you just haven’t spoken up for yourself in the meetings. Like any other group democracy, if you don’t participate you don’t have anyone to blame for the outcome but yourself.

Get off your high horse.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: HOAs

"But far more likely you just haven’t spoken up for yourself in the meetings."

from the article:
"Warshaw said the five-person board of the homeowner association decided to add the three cameras and use money from the neighborhood’s dues to pay for it. The entire 75-home neighborhood did not vote on the decision, but Warshaw said he hadn’t heard any negative feedback."

They did not get to vote it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: HOAs

I’m not blaming ‘the victim’. I’m blaming the HOA, which is its members. You are making assumptions about what their budget was and how it might be illegal. I can make an equal assumption that they budgeted for security devices, and nobody at the time came in and said “what devices? Why? Rather not”, as I already mentioned. You also say they didn’t get to vote. BS. Show up at a meeting, they discuss what specific things to spend money on within a budget line item. Again, I’ll assume nobody showed up to say “yeah, no.” If people don’t show up at meetings to cast votes, make motions, approve budgets, etc. then an HOA has no choice but to proceed with the people they have, which may include the option of just a majority of the executive board members (depending on state) – they don’t need each and every single member’s vote. That’s what leads to those overbearing power tripping HOA boards people love to complain about, but have zero interest in spending time on fixing. In the end, per your other comment, people didn’t complain which means either they approved, or – again – they just didn’t care to go to a next meeting and get their voice heard and recorded in the minutes as saying they disapproved.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: HOAs

In general, people don’t choose to join HOAs any more than they choose to give up their legal rights in favor of binding arbitration. Yes, someone with a lot of time to kill could maybe take over an HOA or dissolve it, but then one can hardly say that person "chose" to live with an HOA. They chose the neighborhood and the HOA was a bit of toxic waste that came with it.

tom (profile) says:

Re: Re: HOAs

You ‘choose’ the HOA when you decide to buy a house located in one. Don’t like the HOA? Buy in a different location. Didn’t read the contract and abstract that detailed the HOA and other covenants when you bought the house? Your fault.

Did the HOA mutate into evil after you bought the house? Read the HOA rules. Read the city/state rules governing HOAs. Chances are pretty good that if few folks are attending meetings, the HOA leaders are playing fast and loose with the rules since no one is going to object. The leaders may not even know the rules as it is likely they inherited the job from the previous leader who either died or moved out of the HOA area. Wait until the leaders make some mistakes. Proper public notice of meetings and proposed actions is one that is often overlooked. Show up with some neighbors and perhaps a lawyer and force the issue. If all else fails, be prepared to either live with the evil HOA or move.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: HOAs

You ‘choose’ the HOA when you decide to buy a house located in one.

Sure, and you "choose" to support your local oligopolies. Don’t like the ISPs and banks in your area? Start your own! Any concept that this may be impractical must be fictional, just people being lazy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 HOAs

good points

and it is not obvious to home buyers that they are ‘joining’ an HOA.

at a real estate "Closing", buyers are presented with a mountain of paperwork and many required signatures.

no average person could understand all that.
The HOA stuff is often just a minor clause buried in the mass of paperwork — most people don’t understand the legal ramifications of an HOA, anyway.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: HOAs

If HOAs are so awful why aren’t more of them dissolved? After all, if the homeowners in the association decide it’s not worth it they can simply vote to dissolve it.

There are neighborhoods with and without HOAs. You can just as easily choose to move into one without an HOA. If you chose the neighborhood with an HOA perhaps it’s because the HOA resulted in the neighborhood being nicer than the one without.

Toxic waste indeed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: HOAs

Rant:
Nonsense. You sign a contract and JOIN the HOA when you CHOOSE to purchase. This isn’t a fascist regime and your suggestion you can’t find a place without an HOA is straight whining bull crap. Don’t want to be in an HOA then dont buy into one. Pretty simple there, slick. Democracy at work. Some of us don’t want your “personality” in our face every day. It’s not rocket science to form a union and suggest there are limits in whiuch we choose to live. Don’t like the club then don’t join it. Not sure how that limits anyone. You are free to buy something that better suits your needs.

Or you can pretend you’re put upon because you don’t like taking responsibility for a damn CHOICE rolls eyes

Freedom doesn’t mean you get to agree to the rules and then suggest they were forced on you – although, there do seem to be a fair number of American’s who can’t tell the difference anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: HOAs

Most HOAs can be dissolved. Those that can’t can go to a management company (which tend to be worse), or be commuted to a Neighborhood Association; all bark and no bite, but if a friendly neighborhood certainly a superior option.

Push comes to shove, though, you only need an HOA in name.

I didn’t say it was easy, but complaining on the internet and begrudgingly paying dues certainly doesn’t magically improve things.

NoahVail (profile) says:

Re: HOAs

you choose to live in an HOA neighborhood

A true assertion yet not an honest one.

I found my current rental via checking each day’s new rental listings at 6am, so I’d be the 1st applicant. Every day, without fail.

Many listings met our budget, distance & space needs, all of them in really tough neighborhoods (usually w/ HOAs, btw).

It took 6 months (as in 180 attempts) to find ONE suitable house in a reasonably safe neighborhood – w/ the most notorious HOA in the county.

So yeah. Technically I chose to live w/ an HOA (that occasionally fabricates bizarrely false violations) but only to avoid living in an even worse Hell.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The ACLU can’t just file a suit on principle; they need a client with standing first.

If you get arrested because of an automated license plate reader, by all means call the ACLU and see if they’re willing to represent you.

Of course, a warrant is only required for LEOs. An HOA using a plate reader does not require a warrant, and you probably wouldn’t have much luck suing somebody for recording a public street and then using public records to determine who a car belongs to.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: trash the plates

a mandatory government License-Plate is indeed a warrantless tracking device.
That has always been its primary purpose.

ACLU should sue each state to eliminate mandatory display of uniquely identifiable License Plates.
License Plates are fundamentally unnecessary and have become a dangerous custom.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: ought to be illegal

yes, mandatory HOA’s could easily be eliminated from real estate deeds… by local/state governments.

This HOA mess is all based upon real estate "Deed Restrictions" (aka covenants) enforced by real courts under contract law.

State/local governments decide which deed-restrictions are legal and enforceable.
(for example, a deed-restriction prohibiting the re-sale of a house to a black person is invalid from the getgo)

Rekrul says:

I could never live in one of those communities. The first time someone filed a complaint against me for violating the rules, I would start keeping a record of absolutely everything that they did, and reporting them for every tiny violation that they make. Take one day too long to mow their lawn? Reported! Grass gets 1/8" too long? Reported! One too many visitors? Reported!

Anonymous Coward says:

Then all you have to do is get one these infrared anti camera license plate frames..

These have a hidden infra red led that will blind license plate cameras with wavelengths just below what the human eye can see, but will make your plate number invisble.

Because the wavelength used is not visible to the human eye, the HOA will never know are using it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

As, but the license plate readers would not be able to get your plate number.

The cop can see the plate number with his eyes, but the infra red LEDs would blind the camera to prevent your plate from being read. Because the cop can still see your plate, even his camera cannot, becuase of the infra red LEDs blinding the camera, it will look like a malfunction, and the cop will have suspect you are using such a device to blind his cameras.

That is why infra red LEDs are the best. A cop can still look out his windshield and still see your plate, but his number reader camera can not.

And that is why such devices are legal. As long as the cop can see your plate when looking out his windshield, you are not breaking the law.

That is the one anti-camera method that is still legal in all 50 states, because the cop can still your plate when he is looking out your vehicle

I have used those in the past, when crossing the border outbound into either Canada or Mexico, since they do have plate reader cameras on vehicles exiting the United States. I am breaking no federal laws when I do that.

The infra read LEDs prevent cameras from seeing your plates, and that, by itself, it not illegal, as long as the cop can see it through his patrol with his unaided eye, you are not breaking the law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Of course, with the kind of camera setup that HOA is using, it is likely using Wireless Internet.

One could simply delploy a jammer that jams 1x, 2g, 3g, 4g, 5g, Wifi and Wimax so their wireless Internet is jammed, and the camera cannot send anything back, and their ALPR cannot connect to the database

It will look the HOA like it is a malfunction, and they will never have idea they are being jammed.

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