Stories
Slash Boxes
Comments

SoylentNews is people

posted by Dopefish on Sunday February 23 2014, @10:00AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the party-like-it's-1984 dept.

siliconwafer writes "The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is looking to acquire a vehicle license plate tracking system, to be used at the national level. According to the solicitation obtained by the Washington Post, commercial readers, supplied by a private company, would scan the plate of vehicles and store them in a "National License Plate Recognition" (NLPR) database. This is already being done at the state level, and privacy advocates are up in arms, with EFF and ACLU suing California over their automatic plate readers. Now that this has potential to become a broad and national program."

[ED Note: "Shortly after the Washington Post broke the story on the national plate reading system, it appears the DHS has shelved their plans for the tracking system, by order of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, at least in the interim."]

Related Stories

California Senate Bill Could Thwart Automated License Plate Readers 26 comments

A bill in the California Senate would allow drivers to cover their license plates when parked to prevent automated license plate readers from reading them. Law enforcement (or somebody else) would have to manually lift the cover to obtain the license plate number:

If the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a San Diego-based Republican state senator have their way, it will soon become legal for Californians to cover their license plates while parked as a way to thwart automated license plate readers.

[...] As written, the new senate bill would allow for law enforcement to manually lift a cover, or flap, as a way to manually inspect a plate number. The idea is not only to prevent dragnet license plate data collection by law enforcement, but also by private companies. A California company, Vigilant Solutions, is believed to have the largest private ALPR database in America, with billions of records.

Ars is unaware of a commercially available product that would allow a license plate to be easily blocked in this fashion. A man in Florida was arrested earlier this year for using a miniature black screen that could be activated via remote control as a way to block his plate number when he passed through automated toll booths.

The new bill will come up before the California State Senate Transportation and Housing Committee on Tuesday, May 9—the first stop in the legislative process.

The California Police Chiefs Association has already filed its opposition to the bill. In a letter to Sen. Joel Anderson, the group argued that the bill would only benefit one group: "those who are trying to evade law enforcement and detection." Similarly, the bill has faced resistance from the California Public Parking Association, among other groups.

Related:
DHS Wants a National License Plate Tracking System
Debt Collectors Fight Privacy Advocates Over License Plate Readers
Arizona City Using Fake Cacti to Hide License Plate Cameras
Louisiana Governor Vetoes License Plate Reader Bill, Citing Privacy Concerns.
Open Source License Plate Reader: Little Brother Strikes Back!
Federal Agents Enlisted Local Police to Scan License Plates at Gun Shows
Amazon Wants to Scan Your License Plate


Original Submission

Debt Collectors Fight Privacy Advocates Over License Plate Readers 40 comments

It's not just governments and law enforcement agencies that are advocating the use of license plate readers, as The Intercept's Lee Fang reports:

As privacy advocates battle to rein in the use of automated license plate readers (ALPRs), they're going up against another industry that benefits from this mass surveillance: lenders and debt collectors. [...] In Rhode Island, for instance, state Rep. Larry Valencia and state Sen. Gayle Goldin proposed bills in 2014 to prohibit the sale or trade of data collected by ALPRs, and to mandate that the state destroy records after one year.

I filed a records request and found two letters in opposition. One letter came from the[sic] Steven G. O'Donnell, on behalf of the Rhode Island State Police, arguing that law enforcement should be able to come up with its own internal procedures to govern the use of ALPRs. The other letter came from Danielle Fagre Arlow, senior vice president to the American Financial Services Association (AFSA), a trade group for consumer lending companies, some of which target the subprime market.

"Our particular interest in the bill," Arlow wrote, "is the negative impact it would have on ALPR’s valuable role in our industry – the ability to identify and recover vehicles associated with owners who have defaulted on their loans and are not responding to good-faith efforts to contact them." Arlow opposed the bill's restrictions on "how long data can be kept because access to historical data is important in determining where hard-to-find vehicles are likely located."

AFSA lobbied against several similar bills as they were proposed around the country. In Massachussetts, the group lobbied against a bill designed to destroy ALPR records after 90 days. AFSA argued that such a regime is unfair because "ALPR systems work best when they are used to string together the historical locations of vehicles."

[...] According to the ACLU of Rhode Island, the ALPR privacy bill died last session — notably, the bill failed after the consumer lending lobbyists voiced their opposition.

Unofficial Secrets is a newly launched and more frequently updated blog from First Look Media/The Intercept.

Related stories:

DHS Wants a National License Plate Tracking System
Ars Technica Obtains Large Dataset of Oakland Police Department License Plate Scans
Watch Out for "Automated Vehicle Occupancy Detection"

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.
Display Options Threshold/Breakthrough Mark All as Read Mark All as Unread
The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not responsible for them in any way.
  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 23 2014, @10:13AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 23 2014, @10:13AM (#5141)

    Shelved for a few months until the furor dies down. You think the 800 ton gorilla will slow down any time soon, just when it's getting everything it ever wanted? In all of history, there has never been such power to track humans on such a scale, with such accuracy and precision, as there is today--and that ability is only increasing. Since it benefits the people at the top of the status quo, it'll continue to happen, short of the status quo being radically altered.

    • (Score: -1, Flamebait) by glyph on Sunday February 23 2014, @12:35PM

      by glyph (245) on Sunday February 23 2014, @12:35PM (#5166)

      I get the unprecedented-ability concern, but lets face it... driving on public roads is a privilege, and licence plates are there specifically for identification of vehicles that do so.

      I guess I just can't see a legitimate reason why the government should *not* be allowed to use this new technology. Not even the ALCU/EFF are arguing otherwise, just that the system should be more transparent.

      • (Score: 5, Insightful) by LookIntoTheFuture on Sunday February 23 2014, @03:06PM

        by LookIntoTheFuture (462) on Sunday February 23 2014, @03:06PM (#5188)

        "...legitimate reason why the government should *not* be allowed to use this new technology."

        Abuse of the collected data in the future, by people who have no morals.

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Nerdfest on Sunday February 23 2014, @03:12PM

        by Nerdfest (80) on Sunday February 23 2014, @03:12PM (#5190)

        They mosty definitely do not need a compete history of who when where, and when. It *will* be abused.

        • (Score: 2, Insightful) by glyph on Sunday February 23 2014, @03:37PM

          by glyph (245) on Sunday February 23 2014, @03:37PM (#5194)

          They will be tracking cars, not people. It's not nearly the same thing for law enforcement purposes, and within accepted practice under current laws.

          Consider Google Glass. Many of the general public are afraid of the privacy implications, but geeks just shrug and tell them privacy in public is at best an illusion.

          • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Nerdfest on Sunday February 23 2014, @04:29PM

            by Nerdfest (80) on Sunday February 23 2014, @04:29PM (#5206)

            Tracking cars not people, just like 'metadata' only tracks calls, not people.

          • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 23 2014, @05:43PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 23 2014, @05:43PM (#5241)
            You're full of shill. Since when do we allow a police officer to follow a single vehicle, uninterruptedly, without a warrant? Simply because we can do it by automated means now, approaching continuous (due to the increasing # of cameras, license plate readers, and other surveillance technology), does not magically justify it and make it okay.
      • (Score: 5, Insightful) by githaron on Sunday February 23 2014, @04:41PM

        by githaron (581) on Sunday February 23 2014, @04:41PM (#5212)

        driving on public roads is a privilege

        At one point in history, that may have been true but how would anyone function in modern society without being able to use public roads?

        • (Score: 1) by Foobar Bazbot on Sunday February 23 2014, @05:02PM

          by Foobar Bazbot (37) on Sunday February 23 2014, @05:02PM (#5223) Journal

          Hey, slow down!

          He said "driving" on public roads is a privilege, and you said "using" public roads is essential in modern society. Don't you know that using public roads (The Way The Good Lord Intended, with feet) is a right, which nobody plans to take away*, and only these new-fangled motorcars need driving privileges granted by the state? It's for your own safety, so shut up and take your medicine!

          *Y'know, aside from all the highways that are posted "motorized vehicles only"... kindly ignore those, else the state's position on the "right to travel" and the "privilege of driving" might look like some kind of farce.

          • (Score: 5, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 23 2014, @05:45PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 23 2014, @05:45PM (#5243)
            Having been homeless before, let me offer my perspective: the ONLY thing you have a right to do in this country is to keep walking. No, you may not stop and rest. No, you may not sleep outside. If you don't own a home, and you aren't in motion, you're either trespassing, loitering, or illegally camping.
            • (Score: 2, Informative) by akinliat on Sunday February 23 2014, @06:52PM

              by akinliat (1898) <akinliatNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday February 23 2014, @06:52PM (#5269)

              If you don't own a home, and you aren't in motion, you're either trespassing, loitering, or illegally camping.

              And just recently a number of cities have made it a felony to do any of the above.

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by hb253 on Sunday February 23 2014, @04:51PM

        by hb253 (745) on Sunday February 23 2014, @04:51PM (#5219)

        Why don't we bypass all this preliminary crap and get to the desired end state? That being, tracking collars and periodic check-ins with "security officials" (similar to how ex-cons must meet with parole officers).

        And maybe throw in some money to bribe people so they can rat out "suspicious" family members, friends and acquaintances...

        --
        The firings and offshore outsourcing will not stop until morale improves.
        • (Score: 1) by Eunuchswear on Monday February 24 2014, @04:36PM

          by Eunuchswear (525) on Monday February 24 2014, @04:36PM (#5939) Journal

          Ex cons?

          At the rate the US imprisons people you'll all be ex-cons soon.

          --
          Watch this Heartland Institute video [youtube.com]
      • (Score: 1) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 23 2014, @05:38PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 23 2014, @05:38PM (#5239)

        Not even the ALCU/EFF are arguing otherwise, just that the system should be more transparent.

        You're full of shit. From the fine line to the EFF:

        We will continue to push for records in this case and to encourage legislatures to pass legislation--like Michigan's and Massachusetts'--that has teeth and provides meaningful limits on the collection, retention and sharing of license plate data.

        Sounds a lot like they don't feel that government should be using it, or at least not using it without serious limitations. Transparency is cited as a MEANS to make the citizen aware of abuses.

        We have also argued, though, that the only way to have an informed public debate about appropriate limits on ALPRs is through greater transparency about how the technology is actually being used.

        They want transparency to HAVE A DEBATE about HOW TO LIMIT license plate readers. Taking someone's words and twisting them to suit your viewpoint is a common shill tactic. (Shill.) Even the states they cite as being good are those that limit the actual collection and storage of data--they don't cite them as being good because of transparency.

        Some of this legislation--like New Hampshire's, which bans police and private companies from using license plate readers, and the proposed legislation in Michigan, which would limit the retention of license plate numbers to no longer than 48 hours--are really good.

        IOW, you're a shill and a bad one at that. Stop trying to put words in others people's mouths.

  • (Score: 5, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 23 2014, @10:22AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 23 2014, @10:22AM (#5142)

    Since 2005/2006, Germany has a state-wide toll collection system based on automated plate recognition. Plates of all vehicles are scanned and stored, only trucks have to pay toll.

    Current legislation in Germany makes it illegal for police to use plate information from toll collect. However, it has been discussed repeatedly to make this information available to authorities to defend against "terrorist threats".

    • (Score: 5, Interesting) by FuckBeta on Sunday February 23 2014, @12:54PM

      by FuckBeta (1504) on Sunday February 23 2014, @12:54PM (#5168) Homepage

      Does it really wish to bring back the MfS [wikipedia.org]?

      Godwinning the thread is warranted when the state seeks to legitimize the real time monitoring of the location and travel habits of its entire population. Traveling on foot is not a realistic opt out.

      IBM and the Holocaust [wikipedia.org] is a book by investigative journalist Edwin Black which discusses how the NSDAP government used early computer technology to better organise genocide. With modern technology, could Hitler have failed to exterminate the Jewish population of Germany?

      Some questions we should ask when approving our government to implement a new piece of technology are:
      -in the event of a government acting unlawfully or purporting to install a dictatorship, would this technology seriously undermine the ability of the people to organise resistance?
      -could this technology be used to single out an unpopular class (trade unionists, communists, ethnic groups, the wealthy) for selective enforcement?
      -how else could this technology be abused (assuming that it will be abused due to human nature)?
      -how can we mitigate such potential for abuse (technical measures better than legal measures)? ...because fuck mass surveillance

      --
      Quit Slashdot...because Fuck Beta!
  • (Score: 1) by forsythe on Sunday February 23 2014, @10:49AM

    by forsythe (831) on Sunday February 23 2014, @10:49AM (#5144)

    I thought they (or the states?) already had a comprehensive tracking system. Or was my paranoia too early?

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by tenex on Sunday February 23 2014, @03:52PM

      by tenex (575) <dave.peck@usa.net> on Sunday February 23 2014, @03:52PM (#5196)

      The federal government doesn't (yet), but the states can and some do--it varies by state. This article has a reasonable write-up of how it is supposed to work in fighting 'crime':

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/license-plate- readers-a-useful-tool-for-police-comes-with-privac y-concerns/2011/11/18/gIQAuEApcN_story.html [washingtonpost.com]

      According to the article, in DC they capture a million data points a day and as a result, have made 1 arrest a day and have found 51 stolen cars using this data.

      The counter argument is obvious: without the network of scanners and a massive database, there may or may not have been 1 less arrest/day and they may or may not have found all 51 stolen cars. The police actually can do a pretty reasonable job without a lot of technology.

      On the other end of the spectrum we have the Minnesota State Patrol, who have a single ALRP equipped patrol car and they destroy the records after 24 hours if the number isn't connected to a crime within that time; it's a small state, and someone should really buy them a bigger SD card.

      http://host-34.242.54.159.gannett.com/news/article /1028823/222/License-plate-tracking-debate-simmers -in-Minnesota- [gannett.com]

      I think collecting the transactional license data and using it in active criminal investigations might be fine if it's actually used, but after a few days (1-7) it isn't found to be directly pertinent to an 'active' investigation it should either be expunged from the system or anonymized for later use.

      I can see having a history of anonymous (datetime, location) data available to the local city traffic engineers might even help my drive to work.

      • (Score: 2) by dry on Sunday February 23 2014, @11:35PM

        by dry (223) on Sunday February 23 2014, @11:35PM (#5371) Journal

        The other counter argument is "do better means of catching car thieves exist?"
        Around here they use bait cars (and even bait bicycles). Cars with remote kill switches, video cameras and such left in high crime areas and when a car thieve steals the car they swoop down on them and make the arrest.
        No rights taken away from the honest person except maybe one less parking spot and it works very well.

  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 23 2014, @11:29AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 23 2014, @11:29AM (#5150)

    Two questions.

    1. What happens to this information when someone steals your plate? I can see that leading to bad things in your future.

    ie: "Why were you located where[insert crime/terrorist attack?"

    2. What exactly is the accuracy of the readers? Tech never screws up right? How/Who verifies that information after the fact? Are they exploitable?

    Call me cynical, but anything that has the ability to make someone look like they were located some place they may not have been, ummm no, just no.

    • (Score: 2, Insightful) by BradTheGeek on Sunday February 23 2014, @04:44PM

      by BradTheGeek (450) on Sunday February 23 2014, @04:44PM (#5215)

      These are valid concerns. However possible or probable it is to be used to locate someone incorrectly (whether intentionally or not), I take umbrage for other reasons. I do not want the government to know where I am or why unless they have a valid reason (i.e. suspicion and warrant) to. No other reason will suffice.

      I do not want some piss-ant LEA to look on his computer and say, "Welp, seems you go to AA/NA every week (we know from the destination address), perhaps I have probalbe cause to search your car for narcotics. No. Just hell no.

    • (Score: 2, Insightful) by adolf on Sunday February 23 2014, @09:30PM

      by adolf (1961) on Sunday February 23 2014, @09:30PM (#5325)

      2. ANR (automatic numberplate recognition) is ridiculously good in modern application. It consists of one or more video-ish cameras, one or more fairly serious IR illuminators (remember, license plates are retroreflective), and some computer vision code.

      License plates are somewhat like MICR codes in that they've got standardized shapes for the letters and numbers and the plate itself, and are therefore much easier read than (say) trying to OCR a page from a book shot with a camera (which has been done for years, now).

      It doesn't even need a clear frame of the entire plate at once in order to read it: It can read part of a partially obstructed plate in one frame, and the rest of the plate once if the obstruction moves enough.

      Sure, there will always be partial or missed reads. But it's also easy to assign an error estimate to every single read, partial or not, and then compare that data to the output of other ANR systems further down the road, and end up with a very clear, low-error-rate, individualized map of who's going where.

      It's very cool tech, and is something that I, for one, am not at all interested in participating in.

      --
      I'm wasting my days as I've wasted my nights and I've wasted my youth
      • (Score: 1) by Joe Desertrat on Monday February 24 2014, @03:39AM

        by Joe Desertrat (2454) on Monday February 24 2014, @03:39AM (#5496)

        "...ANR (automatic numberplate recognition) is ridiculously good in modern application. It consists of one or more video-ish cameras, one or more fairly serious IR illuminators (remember, license plates are retroreflective), and some computer vision code..."

        And in Florida at least, and I'm sure in many other places, they are trying to introduce plates that are easier to read by such means. I imagine they are looking at RFID identification and any and all other such means as well.

        • (Score: 2) by Reziac on Tuesday April 29 2014, @05:09AM

          by Reziac (2489) on Tuesday April 29 2014, @05:09AM (#37523) Homepage

          Montana has gone the other way... a lot of the specialty plates are hard to read when you're standing right there, so I wonder how they are for cameras. Tho color filtering might make the numbers leap out.

          [I can't believe the Reply link is still active, but since I tripped over this post...]

    • (Score: 1) by bob_super on Monday February 24 2014, @05:38PM

      by bob_super (1357) on Monday February 24 2014, @05:38PM (#5980)

      When the French introduced automatic radars, some farmers received tickets for their tractors doing 200km/h on the highway 500km away.
      That wasn't too hard to dismiss by checking the picture.

      However, crooks learnt to copy the license plate of a car of the same model and color, sometimes in the same town. They did catch a few, but the rest of the victims are just stuck being blamed by default (obviously, some only claim to be victims).

  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by hankwang on Sunday February 23 2014, @11:34AM

    by hankwang (100) on Sunday February 23 2014, @11:34AM (#5151) Homepage

    Can somebody tell me, a non-American, how automatic scanners would identify the state that the plate is registered in? From looking at license plate samples [wikipedia.org] it looks like the state is in much smaller print than the registration number. Moreover, they are absolutely not in any consistent format: at the top, at the bottom, on the side, italic font, straight font, or with very bad contrast [wikipedia.org].

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Sir Finkus on Sunday February 23 2014, @01:21PM

      by Sir Finkus (192) on Sunday February 23 2014, @01:21PM (#5173) Journal

      I'd imagine they wouldn't be trying to OCR the state names, but would look at the overall design of the plate. With access to the state's database of valid plate numbers and which cars they correspond to, it'd probably be even easier. You could even make it even smarter and take into account cars that are in the area to shrink the pool further.

      Additionally, it isn't particularly critical that the plate is scanned correctly each time if there are enough cameras. Eventually you'd end up tripping one.

      • (Score: 1) by hankwang on Sunday February 23 2014, @02:22PM

        by hankwang (100) on Sunday February 23 2014, @02:22PM (#5184) Homepage

        With access to the state's database of valid plate numbers and which cars they correspond to, it'd probably be even easier.

        Huh, you mean, instead of OCR'ing the state name on the plate, you propose to do automatic recognition of the color, brand, and model of a car? That sounds like an order of magnitude harder.

        • (Score: 1) by Sir Finkus on Sunday February 23 2014, @02:43PM

          by Sir Finkus (192) on Sunday February 23 2014, @02:43PM (#5185) Journal

          I suppose I didn't explain it well enough. The idea is that they look at the plate, then make an educated guess as to the state by looking at the colors on the plate. The could then cross reference that with the the registration database to verify. It should be fairly easy to determine things like color/size of the car. If the camera misses it, the next camera should have a decent shot to guessing correctly.

        • (Score: 4, Informative) by mhajicek on Sunday February 23 2014, @03:30PM

          by mhajicek (51) on Sunday February 23 2014, @03:30PM (#5193)

          Each state has a unique combination of text color and background color on the plate.

          --
          The spacelike surfaces of time foliations can have a cusp at the surface of discontinuity. - P. Hajicek
          • (Score: 1) by Mesa Mike on Sunday February 23 2014, @04:40PM

            by Mesa Mike (2788) on Sunday February 23 2014, @04:40PM (#5211)

            Not just colors, but other design elements too. For example, the Texas plate has an outline of the state of Texas and a silhouette of a cowboy on a horse.

          • (Score: 2, Interesting) by hankwang on Sunday February 23 2014, @05:54PM

            by hankwang (100) on Sunday February 23 2014, @05:54PM (#5249) Homepage

            Each state has a unique combination of text color and background color on the plate.

            Unique? If you click a few pages on Wikipedia Category:Vehicle registration plates of the United States [wikipedia.org], that is not the impression that I get; for most states, there are several different color combinations depending on the year of issuing. Black or dark blue on white seems to be pretty common.

            (Not a systematic search, just some random clicks).

            Anyway, doing the recognition based on colors doesn't sound like a wise idea, since it should also work when it's dark (infrared flashlight). Recognizing small details might also be troublesome since there may be some motion blur.

            • (Score: 2) by mhajicek on Sunday February 23 2014, @06:54PM

              by mhajicek (51) on Sunday February 23 2014, @06:54PM (#5272)

              Thanks, I stand corrected.

              --
              The spacelike surfaces of time foliations can have a cusp at the surface of discontinuity. - P. Hajicek
          • (Score: 2) by Nerdfest on Sunday February 23 2014, @06:35PM

            by Nerdfest (80) on Sunday February 23 2014, @06:35PM (#5260)

            The readers are also generally tuned to bias towards the more common plates in the area (the ones I've dealt with anyway).

    • (Score: 1) by githaron on Sunday February 23 2014, @04:51PM

      by githaron (581) on Sunday February 23 2014, @04:51PM (#5218)

      OCR would be one way. Another possibility would be to ignore the text all together and instead train a machine learning algorithm to classify pictures of license plates against a labelled data set. It would probably be more accurate at a distance than OCR would be for getting state information. If you are interested in that kind of stuff, Coursera has an interesting class on the subject: https://www.coursera.org/course/ml [coursera.org].

  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by Phoenix666 on Sunday February 23 2014, @12:30PM

    by Phoenix666 (552) on Sunday February 23 2014, @12:30PM (#5163) Journal

    As the Snowden revelations keep coming and the anger boils up and up I have had Asimov's psychohistory much on my mind. His mathematical sociologists in the Foundation series were able to predict human events on the large scale. Part of me wonders if somewhere in the machinery of government or the masters-of-the-universe there are psychohistorians who calculate they can keep pushing their luck because they do keep pushing their luck. The Arab Spring and the events coming out of the Ukraine in the last 24 hours would rather give me pause were I in their shoes. And I wonder what it would take for the same threshold moment to occur in the United States where the illusion of stability pops and the status quo quickly unravels. Perhaps the collapse of the Student Loan system, with its trillion dollar debt load? Magnitude of events is a factor, but so too does velocity of their occurrence seem to matter. Has anyone tried to model this mathematically?

    --
    Washington DC delenda est.
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by RedGreen on Sunday February 23 2014, @01:09PM

      by RedGreen (888) on Sunday February 23 2014, @01:09PM (#5172)

      "Has anyone tried to model this mathematically?"

      I have, people + no money + no hope = shit hits the fan.

      --
      "I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen
    • (Score: 5, Interesting) by Nerdfest on Sunday February 23 2014, @03:18PM

      by Nerdfest (80) on Sunday February 23 2014, @03:18PM (#5191)

      There have been models that show when food prices rise beyond a certain point, riots occur. I'm sure there are other specific areas of study, but I doubt they've got together. I have a feeling if all of these studies were brought together, people would realize we're a lot closer to major upheaval than most think.

      • (Score: 2, Interesting) by demonlapin on Sunday February 23 2014, @05:09PM

        by demonlapin (925) on Sunday February 23 2014, @05:09PM (#5225) Journal
        People decry the modern American factory farming system (and some of that criticism is entirely warranted), but they forget where it came from. It was Nixon who told the USDA to make sure that the cost of food was never again an issue in a presidential election. Our food supply has plenty of problems, but cost is not one of them.
        • (Score: 2) by Nerdfest on Sunday February 23 2014, @06:24PM

          by Nerdfest (80) on Sunday February 23 2014, @06:24PM (#5254)

          The US isn't the only country in the world, and I don't think uprisings will start there first (well, they obviously haven't).

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by kebes on Sunday February 23 2014, @03:45PM

      by kebes (1505) on Sunday February 23 2014, @03:45PM (#5195)
      In the abstract, psychohistory is plausible. Human behavior is surprisingly predictable, especially when you can average over many different people. Bulk social trends (everything from energy use over time, to decision in elections) can be predicted well in advance. A sufficiently refined model, using reliable data, could in principle predict things like revolutions.

      But on the other hand, it's worth remembering that many complex real-world systems are inherently chaotic. So one can compare social systems (stock markets, the will of the people) to weather and climate. Very large-scale trends can probably be predicted (market will go up, there will be a revolution at some point), but making more local predictions is very, very difficult. And making predictions about common occurrences (how many people will watch the Olympics) is easy compared to making predictions about outlier evens (like revolutions).

      If you look at the state-of-the-art in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, and economics, it's clear that we're a long way from being able to make robust predictions about unpredictable and game-changing events.

      So, you're right: it's likely that government analysts will not be able to predict threshold moments. Another one may well be upon us.
      • (Score: 1) by weilawei on Sunday February 23 2014, @07:31PM

        by weilawei (109) on Sunday February 23 2014, @07:31PM (#5291)

        The point of pyschohistory in Asimov's novels was that it WASN'T intended to predict the individual human. It was meant to apply only on a mass scale. In fact, since I have copies of them handy:

        Undoubtedly his greatest contributions were in the field of psychohistory. Seldon found the field little more than a set of vague axioms; he left it a profound statistical science....

        Emphasis mine.

        PSYCHOHISTORY--...Gaal Dornick, using nonmathematical concepts, has defined psychohistory to be that branch of mathematics which deals with the reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli....

        ... Implicit in all these definitions is the assumption that the human conglomerate being dealt with is sufficiently large for valid statistical treatment. The necessary size of such a conglomerate may be determined by Seldon's First Theorem which ... A further necessary assumption is that the human conglomerate be itself unaware of psychohistoric analysis in order that its reactions be truly random ...

        Now, while the beginning of the 1st novel suggests that Seldon developed psychohistory sufficiently well to predict the actions of individuals, the rest of the novels rely on the Foundation itself remaining largely ignorant, and later novels introduce the idea of psychic manipulation by outside forces, and various other twists that place less and less emphasis on psychohistory. The initial definition of psychohistory remains the most relevant to the span of novels in general.

        "I'm not finished," said the trader, coldly. "The future course of the Foundation was plotted according to the science of psychohistory, then highly developed, and conditions arranged so as to bring about a series of crises that will force us most rapidly along the route to future Empire. Each crisis, each Seldon crisis, marks an epoch in our history. We're approaching one now -- our third."

        From the second book:

        Psychohistory dealt not with man, but with man-masses. It was the science of mobs; mobs in their billions. It could forecast reactions to stimuli with something of the accuracy that a lesser science could bring to the forecast of a rebound of a billiard ball. The reaction of one man could be forecast by no known mathematics; the reaction of a billion is something else again.

        Hari Seldon plotted the social and economic trends of the time, sighted along the curves and foresaw the continuing and accelerating fall of civilization and the gap of thirty thousand years that must elapse before a struggling new Empire could emerge from the ruins.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 24 2014, @12:14AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 24 2014, @12:14AM (#5391)
      Except I think in this scenario, the Machinery of Government is the bureaucracy of the Galactic Empire, who are oblivious to the signs of collapse around them. While there are certainly people employed by the government (i.e. statisticians, economists and psychologists) whose job is to look for trends of this kind, I think they're somewhat insulated by their environment and by human nature. In doing their analyses, they never consider that it is they who will have their backs against the wall.

      Posting AC because I haven't yet thought of a name.