License Plate Reader Company Sues Another State For 'Violating' Its First Amendment Right To Build A 1.8-Billion-Image Database

from the we're-really-just-like-some-dude-with-a-point-and-shoot dept

Private companies engaging in large-scale surveillance are pushing back against the push back against large-scale surveillance… by filing lawsuits alleging their First Amendment right to photograph license plates is being infringed on by state laws forbidding the use of automatic license plate readers by private companies.

Now, these laws aren't saying law enforcement agencies can't use these readers. They can. What they do say (or did… Utah's law was amended after a lawsuit by license plate reader company Vigilant) is that private companies, like repossession firms and tow truck services, can't use these readers. But apparently they do, and those who manufacture and support the equipment would like to continue capturing this market.

Cyrus Farivar at Ars Technica reports that Vigilant has filed another lawsuit, this time against the state of Arkansas, arguing that a state law curbing the use of LPRs by private companies tampers with its free speech rights.
In this case, the two firms in question—Digital Recognition Network (DRN) and Vigilant Systems—generate, maintain, and share access to the license plate reader database with law enforcement.

The new Arkansas state law took effect in 2014, and it bans the private collection of license plate reader data while still allowing the cops to use the devices, usually mounted on patrol cars. The two companies say that their First Amendment rights are being violated, as they are allowed to photograph—even under an automated, high-speed process that is then shared with law enforcement—any and all license plates, anywhere.
There's a bit of a disconnect in Viglant's/DRN's logic, but one that's a bit troublesome for the courts to address. By portraying the capture of license plates at a rate of nearly 1,000 per hour as little more than a digital version of someone taking individual photographs of publicly-displayed plates, the companies hope to make its technology look less intrusive than it is.

The troublesome part is that courts have held that privacy violations that don't exist in the singular can't magically be summoned by en masse collections. There are definitely privacy concerns, however, especially when this information is used (and misused) by law enforcement. But the companies argue that there's nothing personally identifiable about a license plate, at least without access to other databases like those held by states' departments of motor vehicles. (Oddly, law enforcement officials have made the same argument, despite having this access.) This is true, but it's of little comfort when the privately-held database contains 1.8 billion records and is growing at the rate of 70 million per month.

Here's the crux of Vigliant's First Amendment assertions.
Plaintiffs' dissemination of license-plate information collected by ALPR systems is speech protected by the First Amendment. Similarly, the use of ALPR systems to collect and create information by taking a photograph amounts to constitutionally protected speech.

The Act is a content-based speech restriction. The illegality of speech under the statute turns on the content of what is being photographed and transmitted through ALPR systems-license-plate information is covered, but other content is not. The Legislature has singled out the collection and dissemination of "images of license plates" and the resulting "computer-readable data." Ark. Code§ 12-12-1802(2), 12-12-1803(a); see also § 12-121082(3). Moreover, the Act's extensive exceptions further demonstrate that it discriminates based on the content of the speech and the identity of the speaker.
This is a tough hurdle for the state to leap and is likely what prompted Utah to heavily amend its state law in exchange for Vigilant dropping the lawsuit. Unfortunately, in Utah's case, the state seems to have overcompensated. The amendment strikes any prohibition of a private entity collecting license plate data and allows these same entities to sell collected data to other third parties, something it expressly forbids government agencies from doing. It also allows for these companies to hold onto the data for as long as nine months, something that was only 30 days in the original bill.

So, Vigilant's point remains that what it does in terms of collection is not a violation of privacy because it does not have access to DMV databases holding personally-identifiable information. It glosses over the fact that it provides access to hundreds of law enforcement agencies around the US, all of which can acquire the connecting data. But that does seem to put the onus on law enforcement agencies to provide adequate privacy protections, including timely disposal of non-hit data. So far, very few agencies have attempted to so. In Utah's case, there are nine months of historic, non-hit data at law enforcement's fingertips, all with time and location info.

In the singular (as Vigilant's argument goes), this isn't a privacy violation -- no different that someone taking a picture of a vehicle in public. But several months of time and location data creates something that can only be achieved through dedicated surveillance, something that does raise privacy questions, especially in light of the recent court decision finding that law enforcement officers need warrants to track cell phone users' locations. This is the same principle. Law enforcement agencies shouldn't be accessing months of plate location/time data unless it's part of an investigation -- and if it is, someone neutral needs to be deciding whether or not every license plate hit is relevant to the situation.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 3:47am

    Thanks for nothing, Shitizens United

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 3:50am

    Better watch it. Because once these companies get the ability to collect your license plate data, your license plate numbers, they'll be able to sell access to those license plate databases to advertising firms who then will bombard you with unsolicited advertising, phone calls, mail and salesmen.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Whatever, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 3:59am

    singular or not

    Singular or not, it should not be an issue. Like it or not, your car is in public, it travels public (shared roads) and thus, other citizens can notice your comings and goings.

    Now, ignoring the technology angle for a moment. What would you say if a private company hired a large number of people with stacks of paper and pens to stand on the side of freeway ramps and note down plates. Would there be an issue? Remember, they are only noting what they can see.

    This has been used for years by people who try to "out" drug deals and hookers, noting all of the license plates of cars going to these places and then posting it in public (often online). I don't remember any case of that sort of thing being shut down as some sort of first amendment violation.

    So we know that someone with a piece of paper and a pen can write down license plates and post them in public places as "people who visited this hooker area". So why if you add "with a computer camera" does it suddenly become an issue?

    A person with enough time and a reasonable filing system could certainly collect plates on paper and pencil and make a very good manual system for noting where a car has been. Computerizing it makes it way more efficient, but it doesn't change the very root of the issue: public observation of a state mandated identification tag.

    The key here is that there is no connection between this system and the DMV, except if police or other authorities decide to use it. The legal issues here are not very much different from other evidence collected by private citizens (I saw this crime, and I found the hammer he used to break the window). Public observation, even taken to the extreme, is still public observation.

    The states will find themselves pretty much in a legal dead end here. There is no way that the courts would permit them to deny people the right to record or take pictures in public, and there is no limit to what can be done with those images as a result.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 4:15am

    Re: singular or not

    A person with enough time and a reasonable filing system could certainly collect plates on paper and pencil and make a very good manual system for noting where a car has been. Computerizing it makes it way more efficient, but it doesn't change the very root of the issue: public observation of a state mandated identification tag.

    The problem is not the collection, but rather that its is allowing the police to bypass warrant requirements. If vigilant have there way, they will become the means by which any police force can track a car in its journeys across the USA. Require that Vigilant make the data available on a public access website to qualify for free speech protection, and watch the politicians and the 1% complain about their privacy being violated, because the public can track their movements.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 4:28am

    Google maps?

    Except for ALR being repetitive data how is this much different than what Google does with their cars? I know there is some hair splitting in this argument but it seems to technically be the same thing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 4:47am

    Re: Google maps?

    The data from Googles street view is extremely useful to the general public and is easily accessible however I fail to see how a private collection of number plates and locations benifits the public?

    In addition to this Google blanks out faces and number plates to remove as much identifying info as possible from its data sets.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 4:50am

    Free Speech? -- really?

    Ok, let's just list things that are not free speech since most everything is.

    Ummm ... I got nothing. So, I guess that whatever you want to do is protected under free speech. Lets say you rob a bank - free speech. How about shoot someone - free speech. See how that works?
    Brilliant!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Crusty the Ex-Clown, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 4:52am

    My dumb question for today

    Would it be possible to make a protective covering for license plates which would have the additional benefit of interfering with current generation LPRs but still give humans a clear view? I imagine there might be a market for such a product.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    icon
    Sneeje (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:10am

    Seems to me the solution is...

    For the laws not to address collection, but to address *access*. If the companies cannot use the collections freely and the collections can only be accessed via warrant, they may not have such an incentive to create them in the manner they wish.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Whatever, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:14am

    Re: Seems to me the solution is...

    Comes to the same problem. Can you stop me from noting a license plate going by, and saying to a nearby cop "I just saw play 123-xyz go by", or answering a cop who asks me if I have seen such a plate in the affirmative?

    Can you stop me from collecting a ton of plates, dates, and places, and sharing them with my friends? Posting them online? Nope. All protected free speech.

    If I am free to speak it, then the police are free to hear it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:17am

    Sound First Amendment argument

    The companies' First Amendment argument is very sound.

    You have a free speech right to record and memorize events and facts taking place in public.

    The problem is not with private actors collection of this information but with the government's structuring of its own databases in a way making this information ripe for taking and abuse.


    Overreaching government abuse of publicly available information should not turn otherwise First Amendment protected activity into unlawful speech.

    It would be a dangerous slippery slope.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    FarSide (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:21am

    Re: Re: singular or not

    In a perfect world, the onus would still be on the police to get a warrant to connect the private data to the DMV database.

    Of course, if anyone believes that would happen without abuse then they aren't paying attention. I get your point.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:23am

    Re: Google maps?

    The First Amendment right to record and observe public events does not depend on the information being useful to the public.

    Google may elect to blur out faces and identifiers, but there is no constitutionally sound distinction between filming an event in public and doing it millions of times.
    If I have a free speech right to record in public, it's a logical correlary that I have a right to retell it to the world and make everything publy searchable.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:27am

    Re: Sound First Amendment argument

    To play devil's advocate a little:

    When retinal scanners a la Minority Report come along, these companies would be able to track a person in much the same way: taking pictures of your eyes as you walk around.

    Should this be allowed based on the same argument? Or is there some arbitrary line crossed when it's something that can't be replicated by a theoretical "mob" of real people?

    My libertarian side says, yup. That's how it goes. But much of me is appalled by the idea.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:33am

    Re: Sound First Amendment argument

    Wouldn't that be free memory rather than free speech?

    Possibly the freedom of the press clause of the first amendment is more applicable here.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:45am

    Re: singular or not

    Once again, a wall of text that says nothing except "I don't understand the arguments other people are making"...

    "Like it or not, your car is in public, it travels public (shared roads) and thus, other citizens can notice your comings and goings."

    Notice, yes. But, track, record and use documentation to bypass legal and other protections?

    "So we know that someone with a piece of paper and a pen can write down license plates and post them in public places as "people who visited this hooker area"."

    Define "hooker area". Because even if they're used for the purposes of soliciting prostitution, there may be many other legitimate reasons to use that area, especially during daylight hours. A fair number of those people tracked are likely to be innocent and thus accusing them of such things in a public forum is wrong. This is why vigilante justice does not equal actual justice - due process is paramount.

    But, given your prior support of prosecuting people without even so much as solid evidence, let alone due process, we shouldn't be surprised at your reaction here.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:46am

    Re: Sound First Amendment argument

    I suppose you could legally cover your eyes in order to obstruct such collection.

    And as long as it was not illegal to do so, people could elect to communicate or not communicate their information.
    Here i don't see the privacy problem.

    The particular problem with license plates is that it's a government mandated identification and tracking system.
    You can't opt out and it's illegal to blur out the numbers.

    if the government really cared about privacy, it could replace license numbers with an electronic ttransmitter only visible to law enforcement scanners within a short distance, but in this case the real issue is not with private corporations collecting publicly available information but with the government making it mandatory to have a tracking device beaming the info to every member of the public.

    If your privacy is violated, and I think it is, the culprit is not the license plate company collecting and republishing what everyone can see but the criminal statutes proscribing punishment for driving without a license plate.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:47am

    Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    Just a thought, but what would the reaction be if some group set up a system to record and publish the location of police vehicles as they went about an area. A license plate reader, coupled to software to recognize a police vehicle, would not be impossible these days.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:56am

    Re: Re: Sound First Amendment argument

    if the government really cared about privacy, it could replace license numbers with an electronic ttransmitter only visible to law enforcement scanners within a short distance,

    License plate are required to be visible so that the public can record them when they witness an accident etc. If this was not possible, many more drivers would be tempted to drive away from an accident knowing that no one could give the police the number that identi8fies the vehicle.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:57am

    Re: Re: Seems to me the solution is...

    I just told the police you have a few kilograms of crack in your house. Do you want them to get a warrant or just ransack your house looking for it?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 6:20am

    Re: Re: singular or not

    Also, where is that hooker area?

    Do any of them look good?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Whatever, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 6:42am

    Re: Re: singular or not

    The "hooker area" thing is pretty common, when citizens get fed up and start noting plates and posting them in public to shame people away from their neighborhood. Usually happens when the cops stop doing their job. yes, vigilantism is bad, but then again, the information is public, and they are only noting who is in the area. Anyone from the public could see the exact same thing. No secrets breached here.

    "Notice, yes. But, track, record and use documentation to bypass legal and other protections?"

    Exactly what legal protections are you referring to?

    Think about it. Is it illegal for me to notice a car in public HERE, and then notice it later HERE, then HERE?

    Is it illegal for me to notice it in those places each day?

    Is it illegal for me to tell my friends about it?

    The answer to all is a big fat NO. The information is public, I would only be recording public facts and sharing them with my friend.

    What laws have been broken?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 7:02am

    Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    "The "hooker area" thing is pretty common, when citizens get fed up and start noting plates and posting them in public to shame people away from their neighborhood"

    Do these areas also have purposes other than soliciting prostitution? I guess so, else why would neighbours complain? Hence my point above. On top of that, most of these campaigns I've seen consist of people being photographed or otherwise documented as attempting to solicit prostitutes, not because their car happened to be parked in the area (as per your example). Perhaps this is what you meant, but if so your comment was poorly worded.

    Also, I have no doubt that such things happen, but my call would be for legitimate law enforcement to do something about it before it becomes such a problem, not for these tactics to become commonplace elsewhere in society.

    "the information is public, and they are only noting who is in the area"

    That part of it's fine. Once they take action based on said information (such as falsely accusing people of visiting prostitutes), it becomes a problem. Do you not see the issue here?

    "Exactly what legal protections are you referring to?"

    Due process, mainly. Most people like having a chance to defend themselves against accusations and prosecution before public conviction. You clearly think differently.

    The silly, irrelevant tangent you went on just goes to show that you still don't know the actual arguments. Perhaps if try exercising your reading comprehension before your keyboard, you might actually have something to say in these threads.

    "What laws have been broken?"

    I didn't say any had. Lern 2 reed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    icon
    ethorad (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 7:08am

    Re: My dumb question for today

    There is a market for products which claim to obscure your number plate from cameras but leave it visible to the naked eye. Mostly from people who speed but want to avoid getting caught by speed cameras.

    You get sprays, plastic reflective covers, even Fresnel lenses which go opaque when viewed from above (as from a camera on a pole over the road).

    However I think mythbusters did a show which debunked them all and proved that they don't actually work.

    Basically it's a bunch of unscrupulous snake oil salesmen taking money from unscrupulous drivers, who can't really complain that their attempt to avoid being caught breaking the law didn't work.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 7:09am

    Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    I completely agree with all of this, but still disagree with the conclusion that it is ok for these companies to collect massive amounts of information about people moving about.

    They have not done anything illegal, or even wrong, but having a database of people's movements that they are allowing law enforcement to mine without a warrant seems like a bad idea.

    While it is very likely to be helpful to law enforcement, and may even protect citizens, constantly keeping track of citizen movement is not something I would like my country interested in doing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Whatever, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 7:11am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    I didn't say "car parked in the area". Lern 2 reed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 7:34am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    Ah, so we're at the point in the discussion where you ignore most of what's said and go for the most childish and non-constructive response. At least I managed to address what you said before getting too snarky. Fair enough.

    You know what you also didn't say?

    "people who visited this hooker area"

    You didn't say "people driving through the area", "people soliciting hookers", "people observed breaking the law", etc. You didn't even specific the extent of the area (street? building? block?), whether people would be parked or on the move, whether they were in the car at the time the plate was recorded, or any number of other things. So I had to guess to some degree.

    I apologise if I made an incorrect assumption, but that's definitely your forte in every one of these discussions. I notice you, because you attack strawmen at every turn and fail to correctly identify the actual points being made. Reading and writing are fundamental for non-verbal communication, and you lack skills at both.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 7:58am

    Stalking

    What about the opposite of these companies' claim? If I were to follow around the families of the executives and take pictures on a digital camera (so I get timestamp data) of the comings and goings of their spouses and children I'm pretty sure they'd have a problem with that even if I only took places from publicly accessible areas like sidewalks. They would complain to the police that I was stalking and/or harassing them.

    Now if I set up cameras around their hometowns collecting the same information in an automated fashion using facial recognition software or even gait recognition software I'm sure they'd be all too willing to violate my freedom of speech since, after all, I'm allowed to collect data that is publicly available, which would include all of my photographs.

    Just as privacy violations that don't exist in the singular can't magically be summoned by en masse collections, stalking and harassment cannot magically be made legal by doing it en masse.

    And speaking of stalking, unless these companies are restricting their customers to law enforcement their service is a stalker's wet dream. All they have to do is search for their target's license plate number (which they likely have) and they don't even have to follow them around manually and risk unwanted attention. They'll have a complete record of where their target goes regularly and when they go there so they can drop by for some "quality time."

    And if these companies are restricting their customers to strictly law enforcement, then it's an obvious 4th amendment end-run. Police can't surveil all people at all times? No problem! Just find a private company that will do it for them and reward them handsomely. Then piss on the 4th amendment some more and laugh as you defend these private entities' 1st amendment rights.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 8:01am

    Re: Re: Seems to me the solution is...

    Like other posters here, I dislike building such a comprehensive collection of people's movements, but rather than create slippery rules related to denying the company the ability to collect the information, I suggest structuring the rules such that government agencies are prohibited from using the database in ways that are likely to make it profitable for the ALPR company to create it.

    Although slightly different from GP's solution, if the law required that the police cannot pay for access to such a database, then the company has less incentive to create it. Add in that the police can submit queries to the database only pursuant to a specific investigation and it becomes difficult for them to legally duplicate the database via bulk queries. Add in that the police cannot spend any funds to build such a database from unsolicited information volunteered by the public, except where the individual volunteering has a reasonable belief that they are reporting suspicious activity. Thus, all the restrictions are upon the government, not the ALPR company.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    AJ, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 8:06am

    Well

    IMHO I'm not real excited that they "track" my movement or "know" where I'm at or what I'm up too all the time, but your kidding yourself if you think they don't know already. This way at least, it's out in the open and understood rather than it being locked up by some uber secret code word court that no one knows about and could never question.

    Pretty soon they are going to have Bio-metric full body scanners that can identify you based on the color and texture of the stubble on your 5 oclock shadow on every other street corner. I honestly don't believe were going to stop it, not and keep from sacrificing some of our freedoms.

    Personally; I'm trying to look at the good side of this.. I'm walking down the street and a streetlamp starts to tell me my fly's down, but because I'm on the phone it advises the street lamp 1 block down to let me know to zip my fly before I trip. How cool would that be.. not the trip part LOL.

    Or i'm driving down the road, run through a license plate scanner, and the street sign in front of me suddenly erupts with a reminder that my car was recalled for "sudden car explosion syndrome" and i should try and have it fixed pretty quick.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 8:24am

    Re: singular or not

    The problem isn't in the collection. The problem is in the compilation of a comprehensive database. The law is way behind the curve here, but with any luck we can improve the situation.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 8:47am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    "what would the reaction be if some group set up a system to record and publish the location of police vehicles as they went about an area"

    Presumably the firms currently using LPRs are also collecting police vehicle locations. So who keeps them honest? Presumably (in jurisdictions where it is allowed) they will sell to any "legitimate" buyer and unscrupulous individual employees may have their own lucrative sidelines. So, are these collections scrubbed of police vehicles?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 8:48am

    let people design their own plate numbers with a personalized image as soon as you attach the image set up a copyright for it under agreement that only law enforcement can use the image but on a limited basis

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 8:56am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    You can currently do this with a series of mobile apps. people crowd source the location of speed traps and other police activities

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 9:00am

    Re:

    This is why we had Occupy Wall Street. Corporations aren't people. Next thing you know, Pepsi and Coca Cola are going to be asking for the right to vote.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 9:02am

    Re:

    McDonald's will call you as you pass by and ask you to turn around and come in for lunch.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 9:05am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    Record speeds of police vehicles too. Then cross reference that data with official records to determine when they are speeding and not reporting to a crime scene. This is a good idea.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 9:23am

    Re: Google maps?

    Google street view does not give near real time monitoring of what is going on in a street, but rather an infrequent snapshot intended to show the buildings. License plate readers when networked give a near real time tracking of a cars movements. That is a significant difference, especially as only the second is of use to police on fishing expeditions to see who was anywhere near a location at a particular time, or who has visited a given set of locations.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 9:45am

    The problem I have with this whole debacle is that there's no way for a citizen to protect themselves against this technology. It's illegal in some (Most? All?) states to tamer with your license plate in a way that prevents it from being displayed.
    Otherwise I'd have no problem with these ALPRs when I could just slap a cover or film over the plate that prevents it from being photographed or scanned in such a way but remains visible to the police's eyes.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 9:54am

    The future result

    You leave work to drive home. You are immediately stopped by the police, arrested, and your car seized and forfeited.

    What? Why?

    Well, the cameras in your neighborhood recorded you leaving your house and getting to the interstate on-ramp. The timestamps show that you were doing 37mph average, therefore you were issued a speeding ticket. The interstate camera off-ramp timestamp shows you did an average of 78 on your way to work; ticket #2. The cameras by your office recorded your arrival with a calculated average of 43mph; ticket #3. Insurance company notified, cancelled your policy. Insurance company notified DMV, your license was suspended.

    Hence, the arrest for driving on a suspended license with no insurance.

    How's that for why to stop this NOW. The end-game mis-use and abuse of "public" information. Think it won't go that far? Wanna bet?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 10:10am

    Re: The future result

    Don't worry. Pols will get involved just as soon as one is blackmailed after being tracked driving their mistress to the abortion clinic again.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 10:17am

    Re: Re:

    Doubtful. They don't need the right to vote -- they have already purchased the right to write legislation.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 10:19am

    Re: Google maps?

    There's no hair-splitting. Google does not maintain a database of license plate numbers and where and when they were spotted.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 10:22am

    Re: Re: My dumb question for today

    This. Almost none of them work at all.

    The ones that do work are the ones that actually obscure the plate (like those LCD plate covers that can be switched on to black out the entire plate). The problem with those is that they are illegal and obvious when in use.

    There are passive covers that work, but they fall into the same problem: they are obvious to the naked eye and are illegal. They're basically the same thing as putting a sign on your car saying "Please pull me over and cite me."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    icon
    btr1701 (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 10:26am

    Re: singular or not

    > Singular or not, it should not be an issue.
    > Like it or not, your car is in public, it
    > travels public (shared roads) and thus, other
    > citizens can notice your comings and goings.

    That point might be more persuasive if the government didn't require me to advertise a uniquely identifying piece of information on the front and back of my car for all to see.

    Between this gross invasion of privacy and the never-ending esacalation of registration fees, I'm noticing more and more people here in California are just going without tags altogether. Car after car on the freeways around L.A. have nothing but the paper dealer logo where the license plate should be. (It also is a convenient way to avoid getting nailed by the ever-expanding net of red light and speed cameras.) And the police don't enforce it because a lot of the tagless cars belong to illegal aliens and the political climate here in Southern California is such that anything that even remotely inconveniences an illegal is prohibited by the political ruling class.

    My next door neighbor hasn't had tags on her car for more than a year and she's never even been given a ticket on the street, let alone pulled over for it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 10:26am

    Re: Re: Sound First Amendment argument

    In my view, the line is not arbitrary at all, and is quite clear: it should be illegal to compile or possess comprehensive databases on individuals without the permission of those individuals or the oversight of the court system.

    The databases are the problem. If I collect data on your public movements, the end result is indistinguishable from the results of illegal spying. Since it's (theoretically) the end results that are the reason that spying is illegal, the databases should be just as illegal.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    icon
    btr1701 (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 10:31am

    Re: Re: singular or not

    > The problem is not the collection, but
    > rather that its is allowing the police to
    > bypass warrant requirements.

    But cops have never needed a warrant to access DMV records. A cop on the street has been able to run a tag since the system was invented decades ago with no warrant requirement.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
    icon
    btr1701 (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 10:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    > Do these areas also have purposes other
    > than soliciting prostitution?

    The ones I remember reading about dealt with strip clubs and porn stores, not hookers, and the activists involved weren't neighborhood residents, but rather church groups and moral crusaders who didn't think anyone should be allowed to patronize those business.

    They didn't track the tags of every car that drove by, just the ones that actually entered the parking lots of the businesses. They photographed the vehicles and the people going in and out of the clubs and bookstores, then posted the photos online.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    icon
    btr1701 (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 10:43am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    > They have not done anything illegal, or
    > even wrong, but having a database of
    > people's movements that they are allowing
    > law enforcement to mine without a warrant
    > seems like a bad idea.

    And at the same time, the citizen has no way to protect him/herself or mitigate the privacy invasion because the state has a legal requirement that you must brioadcast this personally identifying information on your vehicle wherever you go.

    That's the crux of the issue to me. These companies are taking advantage of a legal requirement imposed on every citizen, which citizens cannot legally escape, and using it to compile data, which taken in the aggregate, grossly invades the privacy of just about everyone who drives a car.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
    icon
    btr1701 (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 10:50am

    Re: Re: My dumb question for today

    > However I think mythbusters did a show
    > which debunked them all and proved that
    > they don't actually work.

    I'm debunking Mythbusters-- some of those things do indeed work, at least when it comes to the cameras/readers used on the SoCal freeways to enforce the hotlanes. The polarized plastic tag frames do indeed return a blank image from the the overhead freeway cameras. I've seen the results. It's not 100% effective-- more like about 80%-- but they're worth the $25 if you're into violating the hotlanes, since just one ticket is $341 here.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  51.  
    icon
    btr1701 (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 10:53am

    Re: Re: Seems to me the solution is...

    > Can you stop me from noting a license
    > plate going by, and saying to a nearby
    > cop "I just saw play 123-xyz go by",
    > or answering a cop who asks me if I
    > have seen such a plate in the affirmative?

    No, but I can stop the cop from asking you in the first place unless he has a subpoena or a warrant.

    You don't have any 1st Amendment right to be asked for information by the police.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  52.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 11:08am

    Re: Stalking

    No, the stalking analogy is pretty daft.

    Stalking requires repeated conduct targeting a specific person and physical proximity.

    Just setting up cameras in a location and filming everyone passing by is not stalking by any stretch.

    Whether or not the person feels it's stalking is irrelevant, or whether you publishes the info on a website for public perusal does not turn it into stalking.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  53.  
    identicon
    DogBreath, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 11:43am

    Re: Re:

    Once they start scanning your eyes, it's all over.

    It is pretty much already over. because as long as the data is collected by a 3rd party and the government can then demand and get to it without a warrant (while providing full legal immunity to said 3rd party), the Constitution doesn't apply.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  54.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 12:18pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    the state has a legal requirement that you must brioadcast this personally identifying information on your vehicle wherever you go

    I guess that is the real problem here. I suppose I have to go on to ask why we actually have this requirement. I can see good reasons for vehicles to be registered, but putting identifying numbers on the outside of them does not seem necessary to me. It is useful in finding someone violating a law, but that really seems like all the tags are good for.

    Perhaps that is the thing we should be questioning.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  55.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 12:37pm

    Re: Re: Re: My dumb question for today

    "The polarized plastic tag frames do indeed return a blank image from the the overhead freeway cameras."

    The polarizers work if the angle of the camera to your car is great enough. For ALPRs, most of them recommend an angle of 22 degrees or less, and at those angles, the polarizing covers are utterly worthless.

    Here are some interesting tests: http://radartest.com/Red-Light-Camera-Countermeasures-Test.asp

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  56.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 12:48pm

    Are machines protected by the first amendment? Are the Terminators going to be able to legally taunt us while dominating our culture?

    People have rights, machines don't. If they have a real person behind each one of these stupid cameras, they should be able to enjoy first amendment protection. Otherwise, shove it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  57.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 12:56pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    Come on now hunger constitutes an emergency, justifying the use of blues and twos to get to the donut place.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  58.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 1:24pm

    Same result, different methods

    Let's look at it from a different angle. The courts have generally agreed that if you want to track someone, say via their cellphone or something you attach to their car without their knowing, you need a warrant for that, due to it being an invasion of privacy.

    Now, one or two of these cameras will allow you to tell that plate X passed through intersection Y at time Z. Useful for speeding tickets or whatnot(though even that presents problems, such a false readings leading to automated tickets), but not much beyond that. However, set up cameras in multiple areas, and you can easily and precisely track where a person drives and when, no different than if you'd attached something to their car directly.

    Given just how easily it is to track someone with a database like this, I'd argue that accessing it should, just like tracking devices placed on cars, require a targeted warrant, and not be something any cop can do should they be bored or curious.

    As an added bonus, with a warrant requirement, I'm betting the police would be much less interested in such services, given their habitual aversion to paper trails and accountability, so the companies offering such services would likely see a drastic drop in revenue, potentially even folding entirely.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  59.  
    identicon
    Gauze, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 1:51pm

    The Supreme Court (5) Douchebags

    The Supreme Court has already ruled that money is Free Speech.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  60.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 2:03pm

    Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    Does precedent really make it just?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  61.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 2:04pm

    Re: The Supreme Court (5) Douchebags

    And most Americans have already ruled that all three branches of government are irrelevant.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  62.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 2:22pm

    Re: Re: Stalking

    "Just setting up cameras in a location and filming everyone passing by is not stalking by any stretch."

    It all depends on what's done with the data. Compiling an extensive dossier on everyone using data gathered through pervasive public surveillance? That's stalking in my book.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  63.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 2:56pm

    Oh yeah, lets give companies the status of a person, i mean, WTF can go wrong!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  64.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 3:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    Another issue here, covered in the article, but one that I think needs further thought.

    If you have someone at a single point writing down all plates as they go by, I don't think anyone has an issue.

    But does your skin crawl at the thought of a company employing people to stand at every street corner and write down every plate, 24/7? And then those numbers are sent back to the company to do with what they like for 9 months?

    The fact that it's currently legal doesn't mean that it is free and clear. We've got the collision of mass data collection, corporations exercising amendment rights, pooling of data and mass data leveraging/sale/oversight here. Any one of these by itself isn't really an issue, but when you combine them all, you end up with a situation that obviously doesn't end well for the individual, even if the government never comes into the picture. Then add the fact that the government can dip into this information at will without a warrant....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  65.  
    icon
    Padpaw (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 3:15pm

    Funny how they only act like they care when it affects them not when it affects the citizens

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  66. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:15pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    horse with no name just hates it when due process is enforced.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  67.  
    identicon
    Whatever, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 10:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    It's why your arguments almost always fail, because you are assuming something that the other person did not say.

    Sorry if I am not exact enough for your standards. Perhaps you should google up on how people have used plate listings and car photos to shame people away from visiting hookers and drug dens.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  68.  
    identicon
    Whatever, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 10:09pm

    Re: Re: Re: Sound First Amendment argument

    You still fall into the same problem area: if the individual item is public knowledge, why is collecting them suddenly not?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  69.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Jun 19th, 2014 @ 4:49am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    Ah, so you're not interested in addressing any of my actual points, you just want to argue one easy sliver, project some failing of your own on to me, then pretend you somehow "won". I especially love the deflection at the end. How typical.

    Typical for you. Don't you ever want a real conversation rather arguing irrelevancies and fictions and ignoring any other viewpoints?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  70.  
    identicon
    Whatever, Jun 19th, 2014 @ 6:21am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    I love the "typical for you". Troll much?

    I didn't address your points because you missed mine so badly, that your points were relevant. It wasn't someone taking a list of places near a whorehouse and just listing them as bad, rather someone watching the comings and goings and noting the plates of people who VISIT the whorehouse - then making that information public.

    So going on about parked cars or people who live in the area is meaningless in context, and chatting in circles about it won't actually accomplish anything.

    I will leave you to make all the insults you want, clearly discussion isn't on your priority list.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  71.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 19th, 2014 @ 6:27am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Sound First Amendment argument

    As I said in a different comment, it's because when you collect all of the publicly available data, the end result is the same as if you are conducting illegal surveillance. Therefore it should have the same status.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  72.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Jun 20th, 2014 @ 12:32am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    "I love the "typical for you". Troll much?"

    No, I'm calling out a troll. Thankfully, you're one of the few who's got the shred of honesty required to provide a name so that we can see what you do from thread to thread rather than having to compile similar lines of bollocks spouting from an AC. When I say "typical for you", I mean that I've observed the same tactics from you, thread after thread, and they're pretty transparent attempts to deflect from the actual argument presented in the articles at hand. Read into that what you will.

    "I didn't address your points because you missed mine so badly"

    Indeed. But, you whine about me missing your points (mainly because you're so bad at getting them across), but you not only consciously ignore mine, but you've not even addressed the actual points in the article itself. Pot, kettle, etc.

    Yet again, you've managed to ignore every point in the article, and derail criticism of you to the point where you're now trying to argue semantics in a piss-poor analogy that doesn't address the real situation rather than the actual story. bravo.

    "I will leave you to make all the insults you want, clearly discussion isn't on your priority list."

    Your projection is IMAX quality. Instead of creatively distorting and ignoring points people are actually discussing (I particularly love the "blame the EU for caring about US spying via PRISM, and it's their fault if their protection of their citizens harms the internet" bullshit you were spouting yesterday), why not try addressing the discussions at hand? It must take far less effort than the strange game you're playing, and be far more productive.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  73.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Jun 20th, 2014 @ 12:37am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: singular or not

    To be fair, I have read stories of areas where a part of a neighbourhood has become so rife with prostitution that residents have felt the need to take action in the way described. They tended to photograph the cars in the act of soliciting the hookers, so it's nothing like the situation being argued.

    However, not only is it a terrible analogy to what's happening here (a localised "tracking" based on a single event for the potentially guilty), but it doesn't address the rights of those innocents caught in the trap (every driver, under the scheme described above). It's like the "file sharing is the same as shoplifting" analogies - when you get past some superficial similarities, they're nothing like the same thing at all.

    But, he'll be happy to argue the finer points of this analogy rather than address the actual points raised.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
Advertisement
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Chat
Techdirt Reading List
Advertisement
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Support Techdirt - Get Great Stuff!

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.