Total Traffic Surveillance Systems

Canada is building a total traffic surveillance system based on Automatic Licence Plate Recognition (ALPR):

With ALPR, for $27,000, a police cruiser is mounted with two cameras and software that can read licence plates on both passing and stationary cars. According to the vendors, thousands of plates can be read hourly with 95-98 percent accuracy. These plate numbers are automatically compared for “hits” against ICBC and Canadian Police Information Centre “hot lists” of stolen vehicles; prohibited, unlicensed and uninsured drivers; and missing children. When such “hits” occur, plate photos are automatically stamped with time, date, and GPS coordinates, and stored. The officer will investigate details in the above-mentioned databases directly, and may pull over suspect vehicles.

At least, that’s how the popular story goes ….

… the Privacy Commissioner described the ALPR program to parliament as “general and ubiquitous surveillance, without adequate safeguards,” …

… the categories of people that generate alerts or “hits” in the ALPR system, alongside car thieves and child kidnappers, are much broader than has ever been disclosed publicly. And information on these people’s movements is being retained in a database for two or more years. For example, though you may not be stopped, your car is a “hit” and its movements are tracked and recorded if you’re on parole or probation or, in some cases, you’ve simply been accused of breaking a criminal law, federal or provincial statute, or municipal bylaw. You’re also a hit if you ever attended court to establish legal custody of your child, if you’ve ever had an incident due to a mental health problem which police attended, or if you’ve been linked to someone under investigation. The list of hit categories continues through three more pages, and a fourth page that the RCMP completely redacted.

Meanwhile, according to the Privacy Impact Assessment, the RCMP is also keeping records for three months on the whereabouts of everybody else’s cars, too—this is called “non-hit” data.

I predicted something like this over a decade ago in The Death of Privacy?, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

I wanted to write that undoubtedly we’ll be doing this here very soon. But in fact it seems we’re already using Automatic License Plate Reader/Recognitiontechnology in many parts of the US.

(Canadian article spotted via Slashdot.)

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3 Responses to Total Traffic Surveillance Systems

  1. Just me says:

    We already use them right here in S.Fla. The 878 and 874 have recently installed toll booths with no cash pay option. If you don’t have a sunpass, they just send you a bill in the mail at the end of the month. This is accomplished with the use of plate reading. This use of plate reading isn’t very 1984ish, but it is a start.

  2. Just me says:

    Not exactly related to this post, but it can definitely be filed under the “1984, and our efforts to avoid it” file. This link might interest you:

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