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posted by LaminatorX on Wednesday March 25 2015, @07:30PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the trust-no-one dept.

Ars Technica used a public records request to obtain a large dataset of license plate scans from 33 License Plate Readers (LPRs) in Oakland, California:

OAKLAND, Calif.—If you have driven in Oakland any time in the last few years, chances are good that the cops know where you’ve been, thanks to their 33 automated license plate readers (LPRs).

Now Ars knows too.

In response to a public records request, we obtained the entire LPR dataset of the Oakland Police Department (OPD), including more than 4.6 million reads of over 1.1 million unique plates between December 23, 2010 and May 31, 2014. The dataset is likely one of the largest ever publicly released in the United States—perhaps in the world.

After analyzing this data with a custom-built visualization tool, Ars can definitively demonstrate the data's revelatory potential. Anyone in possession of enough data can often—but not always—make educated guesses about a target’s home or workplace, particularly when someone’s movements are consistent (as with a regular commute).

It seems the cars of police officers, politicians, and others doing the spying should have been captured by the LPRs too. A prize for the first person to separate out what they've been up to...

Related Stories

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"

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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2015, @08:59PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2015, @08:59PM (#162527)

    Find out where they've been. Find out where their spouses have been. Find out where their children have been. Publish it all and let them see how it feels.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2015, @09:16PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2015, @09:16PM (#162530)

      If someone were to do that, they would be labeled a terrorist or a traitor and arrested.

      • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2015, @09:35PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2015, @09:35PM (#162534)

        So... do it anonymously?

    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2015, @11:14PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2015, @11:14PM (#162555)

      Don't forget to compare their locations to their expense reports. ;-)

    • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:44AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:44AM (#162594)

      I love the idea of setting up crowd sourced cameras / license plate scanners where only data on rich, powerful, and their faithful servants is recorded. We track every cop, politician, rich CEO fuck etc.

      I'm sure laws will be passed, in response, that will make it a crime for surveillance directed at these powerful people, and at the same time expand surveillance of ordinary folks. But, some laws were made to be broken.

      It would scare the shit out of these fucks. And they need, at least, that.

    • (Score: 2, Funny) by undefinedvalue on Thursday March 26 2015, @03:33PM

      by undefinedvalue (1755) on Thursday March 26 2015, @03:33PM (#162759)

      > Find out where they've been. Find out where their spouses have been. Find out where their children have been. Publish it all and let them see how it feels.

      I can't believe that I just read this. It is outrageously immoral. At least the people gathering this data are attempting to use it for purposes they believe are good. This just outright malicious and stoops below their level.

      I'm sure there are other solutions that don't involve compromising the privacy and safety of children.

  • (Score: 4, Funny) by Thexalon on Wednesday March 25 2015, @09:37PM

    by Thexalon (636) on Wednesday March 25 2015, @09:37PM (#162535)

    For some reason, Police Chief Sean Whent's car was repeatedly scanned at the home of a certain Miss "Audrey Longlegs". Further surveillance noted that these interrogation sessions must have been quite vigorous, as officers observed Mr Whent appearing extremely sweaty and energized upon exiting the home. Officers, however, were asked to not investigate this matter further, because Mr Whent had decided to handle it personally.

    (To Mr Whent's attorney: Not intended as a factual statement)

    --
    The only thing that stops a bad guy with a compiler is a good guy with a compiler.
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by CirclesInSand on Wednesday March 25 2015, @09:56PM

      by CirclesInSand (2899) on Wednesday March 25 2015, @09:56PM (#162538)

      If it turned out that they really didn't have anything socially taboo to hide, I think that would only make me hate them more. I hate superficial righteousness much more than honest hypocrisy.

      • (Score: 5, Interesting) by hemocyanin on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:18AM

        by hemocyanin (186) on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:18AM (#162589) Journal

        That sounds very Oscar Wilde ... which got me looking at Oscar Wilde quotes ( http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/o/oscar_wilde.html [brainyquote.com] ):

        • Exactly on point:
        • I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better than anything else in the world.
        • A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.
        • Not an exact match, but shares some similarity:
        • Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.
        • Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.
        • The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.
        • OT but funny:
        • America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.
        • (Score: 4, Interesting) by CirclesInSand on Thursday March 26 2015, @05:18AM

          by CirclesInSand (2899) on Thursday March 26 2015, @05:18AM (#162610)

          Nice list. The one that came to my mind, and which I think more people would recall, is CS Lewis:

          Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.

          Although my personal favorite quote on this topic is succinctly from Blade of the Immortal by Samura Hiroaki, originally in Japanese:

          It is those who believe themselves righteous that destroy nations, and those who see the evil within that rise up and save their country.

  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2015, @10:30PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2015, @10:30PM (#162546)

    Matis wasn't worried about OPD capturing such data, but he was less comfortable knowing that the data was released to the media.

    “If anyone can get this information, that’s getting into Big Brother,” he told Ars. “If I was trying to look at what my spouse is doing, [I could]. To me, that is something that is kind of scary. Why do they allow people to release this without a law enforcement reason? Searching it or accessing the information should require a warrant.”

    so he's vehemently against surveillence but only if the people being surveilled are able to access the data? wow! Classic doublethink and he even references 1984! poor brainwashed slave...

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by kaszz on Wednesday March 25 2015, @10:56PM

    by kaszz (4211) on Wednesday March 25 2015, @10:56PM (#162550) Journal

    Any good ideas on how to disrupt these plate scanners and still slip through the cracks of the law? (game the system)

    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2015, @11:24PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2015, @11:24PM (#162558)

      Any good ideas on how to disrupt these plate scanners and still slip through the cracks of the law? (game the system)

      You can always do what Steve Jobs did [appleinsider.com] and get a new car every six months (if you live in California).

    • (Score: 4, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2015, @11:59PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2015, @11:59PM (#162568)

      Any good ideas on how to disrupt these plate scanners and still slip through the cracks of the law? (game the system)

      Countermeasures [soylentnews.org]

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:00AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:00AM (#162588)

      I'm pretty sure it is illegal, somewhat like obscuring your license plate as you drive past a a speed camera.

      If I had to devise a system, I'd put a transparent retroreflector https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retroreflector [wikipedia.org] tape over the plate. That way when the plate is illuminated the light returns to sender. However that depends on a light source being used to illuminate the plate at the time of scanning.

      • (Score: 5, Interesting) by hemocyanin on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:21AM

        by hemocyanin (186) on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:21AM (#162590) Journal

        I do like the idea of using letter stickers to the left and right of the plate. You could argue that you are not obscuring the plate at all, so long as the letters or numbers don't touch the plate -- and if you make them political statements of some kind, you might have a constitutional argument to make as well.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:23AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:23AM (#162592)

        > I'd put a transparent retroreflector

        You know that's a physical impossibility, right?

        • (Score: 2) by tibman on Thursday March 26 2015, @03:35AM

          by tibman (134) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 26 2015, @03:35AM (#162601)

          Here's an example of it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNIFnbaIJqk&t=0m35s [youtube.com]

          --
          SN won't survive on lurkers alone. Write comments.
          • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26 2015, @04:19AM

            by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26 2015, @04:19AM (#162605)

            Come on!

            That material is semi-transparent because they drilled holes in it.
            The holes are not retro-reflective and the parts that are not holes are not transparent.
            The only reason that looks tolerably transparent is because there is a light source behind the retroreflector.
            Which, in case I have to spell it out, would not be possible for tape applied to a license plate.

            BTW, all US license plates are made of retroflective material to start with. Just like street signs.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Kromagv0 on Thursday March 26 2015, @12:51PM

      by Kromagv0 (1825) on Thursday March 26 2015, @12:51PM (#162698) Homepage

      One common thought that some have explored is to try and dazzle the sensor using LEDs [workingsi.com]. The thinking being that if you have some bright point sources of light they will flood nearby pixels making the plate unreadable. In looking into this some it doesn't appear to work all that well but in my opinion they just didn't take it far enough. Why try to flood the surronding pixles when instead if you just dump out enough IR over a large enough area you can mess with the camera's automatic exposure. My thought would be to build a larger license plate frame that has an area at least as big as the license plate and use a bunch of nice high output IR LEDs [digikey.com] for maximum effect. I want to get something that is putting out close to 1KW/m^2 of IR so it is like having the sun shine into the camera.

      The most effective way of defeating ALPRs seems to be with license plate covers, or coatings you put on your license plate, the legality of these varies by state though. For example in Minnesota state statute 169.783 Subd. 7 [mn.gov] states

      All plates must be (1) securely fastened so as to prevent them from swinging, (2) displayed horizontally with the identifying numbers and letters facing outward from the vehicle, and (3) mounted in the upright position. The person driving the motor vehicle shall keep the plate legible and unobstructed and free from grease, dust, or other blurring material so that the lettering is plainly visible at all times. It is unlawful to cover any assigned letters and numbers or the name of the state of origin of a license plate with any material whatever, including any clear or colorless material that affects the plate's visibility or reflectivity.

      So that basically prevents all of the good known working methods. Also it makes most of those vanity license plate frames illegal as they cover part of the writing or tags, but that is selectively enforced.
       
      So for me it looks like my best bet would be to try and force a massively underexposed image of the plate. Also for anyone else who is interested in exploring this further most new license plates are designed to be extremely high contrast in the IR spectrum and most ALPRs operate in IR, specifically the no red glow region. So the use of high output IR LEDs would appear to be the correct choice, although again depending on your state laws this type of illumination may be illegal, but it doesn't appear to be in Minnesota [state.mn.us]. Flashing seems to be the most regulated type of light from vehicles so be careful going down that route as well.

      --
      T-Shirts and bumper stickers [zazzle.com] to offend someone
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:25PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:25PM (#162728)

        NoPhoto [nophoto.com] They are about to ship their 2nd generation. It detects the camera flash and flashes back its own high-intensity xenon light. Of course it only works when the camera uses a flash.

        • (Score: 2) by Kromagv0 on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:49PM

          by Kromagv0 (1825) on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:49PM (#162742) Homepage

          That is why I brought up the whole flashing and strobing thing. In my state those may not be entirely legal. Also depending on the xenon light and how it is aimed it may also be illegal.

          --
          T-Shirts and bumper stickers [zazzle.com] to offend someone
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:32PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:32PM (#162736)

        My thought would be to build a larger license plate frame that has an area at least as big as the license plate and use a bunch of nice high output IR LEDs for maximum effect

        Maybe these guys. [sunflexzone.com]

        • (Score: 2) by Kromagv0 on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:42PM

          by Kromagv0 (1825) on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:42PM (#162740) Homepage

          The digging that I have done seems to indicate that those devices aren't as effective as they are made out to be. They may or may not work depending on quality and dynamic range of the camera being use. When dealing with something like a cheap cellphone type camera they are easily fooled, especially while indoors. They do start having problems when illuminated by bright natural sunlight as those LEDs just don't put out enough power to overcome the sun, which is why I was thinking of getting something with the output in the 1Kw/m^2 range or better as that would mess with the cameras.

          --
          T-Shirts and bumper stickers [zazzle.com] to offend someone
          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26 2015, @05:31PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26 2015, @05:31PM (#162847)

            Ignoring the question of sufficient brightness, two engineering problems I see with that one:

            (1) The mount is plastic, those LEDs have basically no heat-sinking, if they are bright enough to be effective they are also going to dissipate a bunch of heat. They will probably burn themselves out really quick.

            (2) There doesn't seem to be anything protecting the led ribbon from the elements. Surely they could have come up with some sort of IR-transparent cover -- every tv remote control has got one.

    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:28PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26 2015, @02:28PM (#162732)

      For infrared cameras there is this plate cover [ontrackcorp.com] which is transparent in the visible spectrum.
      There are others, that was just the first one in google.