March 22, 2012
“Another example of the government wanting to spy on its own people.” –KTRN
A lobbyist for the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) industry has convinced Connecticut legislators to consider implanting spy chips on the state’s license plates. Last Wednesday, the state Senate Transportation Committee voted unanimously to pass a bill asking the Department of Motor Vehicles to create a report on the implementation of RFID for motor vehicle registration by January 1.
Implanting the chips on license plates would enable real-time monitoring of all vehicles by positioning tracking stations at key points throughout the state. The main interest behind the bill is to generate automated ticket for drivers whose vehicle registration, emissions or insurance certification may have lapsed for a day or two. RFID makes photo enforcement systems far more accurate. Instead of having optical character recognition software identify vehicles from a picture of a license plate — often guessing when images are unclear — the chips would broadcast vehicle identity to nearby stations under all weather conditions.
Former astronaut Paul Scully-Power brought the idea to the attention of lawmakers. Scully-Power stands to profit significantly should the technology be adapted at the state level, as he is the former CEO of Mikoh Corporation and SensorConnect Inc, both of which sell RFID solutions. Scully-Power’s written testimony to highlighted how legislators would fare equally well by adopting the technology.
September 13, 2011
By: O’Ryan Johnson
Civil libertarians are raising the alarm over the state’s plans to create a Big Brother database that could map drivers’ whereabouts with police cruiser-mounted scanners that capture thousands of license plates per hour — storing that information indefinitely where local cops, staties, feds and prosecutors could access it as they choose.
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“What kind of a society are we creating here?” asked civil rights lawyer Harvey Silverglate, who along with the ACLU fears police abuse. “There comes a point where the surveillance is so pervasive and total that it’s a misnomer to call a society free any longer.”
The computerized scanners, known as Automatic License Plate Recognition devices, instantly check for police alerts, warrants, traffic violations and parking tickets, which cops say could be an invaluable tool in thwarting crime. The Executive Office of Public Safety has approved 27 grants totaling $500,000 to buy scanners for state police and 26 local departments. The purchases are on hold while state lawyers develop a policy for the use of a common state database all the scanners would feed.
Some ALPR scanners already are deployed on Massachusetts roads. State police have two. Several cities use them for parking enforcement. Chelsea has four scanner-mounted cruisers.
“It’s great for canvassing an area, say after a homicide if you are looking for a particular plate,” said Chelsea police Capt. Keith Houghton. “You can plug it in, and drive up and down side streets. It sounds an alarm if you get a hit.”
He said Chelsea’s information is overwritten after 30 days and is not shared with the state.
EOPS spokesman Terrell Harris said the state wants the scanner information fed into the Public Safety Data Center, where local, state and federal authorities could access it.
“We’re currently working to develop a policy that balances the effective use of this powerful law enforcement tool with the privacy concerns we’re keenly aware of,” Harris said.
The ACLU’s Kade Crockford said the technology, which just allows a faster version of what police do now in running plates, is less of a concern than the state’s plans to store information on average, law-abiding citizens.
“People who aren’t wanted for a crime, all of their information is stored in a database that is shared with another government agency,” Crawford said. “The potential for abuse is very big. We don’t think people who haven’t committed a crime should be tracked by law enforcement.”
The two state police cruisers equipped with scanners patrol the metro Boston area, state police spokesman David Procopio said. He defended police use of the new technology.
February 9th, 2011
A vast network of high-tech surveillance cameras that allows Chicago police to zoom in on a crime in progress and track suspects across the city is raising privacy concerns.
Chicago’s path to becoming the most-watched US city began in 2003 when police began installing cameras with flashing blue lights at high-crime intersections.
The city has now linked more than 10,000 public and privately owned surveillance cameras in a system dubbed Operation Virtual Shield, according to a report published Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union.
At least 1,250 of them are powerful enough to zoom in and read the text of a book.
The sophisticated system is also capable of automatically tracking people and vehicles out of the range of one camera and into another and searching for images of interest like an unattended package or a particular license plate.
“Given Chicago’s history of unlawful political surveillance, including the notorious ‘Red Squad,’ it is critical that appropriate controls be put in place to rein in these powerful and pervasive surveillance cameras now available to law enforcement throughout the City,” said Harvey Grossman, legal director of the ACLU of Illinois.
The Chicago police “Red Squad” program from the 1920s through the 1970s spied on and maintained dossiers about thousands of individuals and groups in an effort to find communists and other subversives.
Outgoing mayor Richard Daley has long championed the cameras as crime-fighting tools and said he would like to see one on every street corner.
Chicago police say the cameras have led to 4,500 arrests in the last four years.
But the ACLU said the $60 million spent on the system would be better spent filling the 1,000 vacancies in the Chicago police force.
It urged the city to impose a moratorium on new cameras and implement new policies to prevent the misuse of cameras, such as prohibiting filming of private areas like the inside of a home and limiting the dissemination of recorded images.
“Our city needs to change course, before we awake to find that we cannot walk into a book store or a doctor’s office free from the government’s watchful eye,” the ACLU said.
A police spokeswoman said the department regularly reviews its policies and maintains an “open dialogue” with the ACLU.
“The Chicago Police Department is committed to safeguarding the civil liberties of city residents and visitors alike,” Lieutenant Maureen Biggane said in an e-mail.
“Public safety is a responsibility of paramount importance and we are fully committed to protecting the public from crime, and upholding the constitutional rights of all.”
November 2nd, 2010
By: Richard C. Paddock
Drive a car into this affluent town on San Francisco Bay and you will be noticed. At least your license plate will.
The small community of Tiburon has begun photographing and recording the license plate of every vehicle that enters or leaves town. The goal is to catch criminals in an area that already has among the lowest crime rates in the state.
“We think it provides a great post-event tool for criminal investigation,” Tiburon Police Chief Michael Cronin told AOL News. “Our geography limits access to the community to only two roads, giving us the opportunity to easily identify vehicles associated with crimes.”
Tiburon is one of many communities around the country that increasingly are turning to technology to tackle crime, adopting such devices as police officer headcams, robots and laser scanners.
In Tiburon’s case, recording the license plate of every vehicle is made relatively easy by its isolated location. Tiburon sits on a peninsula that juts into San Francisco Bay, and only two roads lead in and out of town. About 12,000 people live on the peninsula, which also includes the town of Belvedere.
Six cameras have been installed at key points along the two highways, one for each lane of traffic. The cameras photograph each license plate, and the photos are stored in a database that can be easily searched. The system also will be programmed to check whether any of the plates are linked to an Amber alert or a stolen car.
The system began photographing and recording license plates last week. Other features of the system should be operating by the end of this week, Cronin said.
But here in Marin County, a bastion of liberalism, dealing with civil liberties issues was tougher than installing the technology. Initially, the idea of bringing Big Brother to Tiburon did not sit well with some members of the community.
“It’s beyond creepy,” Tiburon resident James Bramlette, 34, told the Marin Independent Journal. “It’s totally unnecessary, and it raises questions about what kind of community we live in. It’s embarrassing.”
Others, however, liked the safety aspect the technology provides.
“It’s just like locking your door,” Robin Pryor, 66, of Belvedere told the San Francisco Chronicle.” “If [visitors] have reason for it to bother them, they shouldn’t be coming in.”
Cronin said the police department overcame resistance by incorporating a number of civil liberties safeguards into the system. The cameras will not photograph the occupants of any vehicle, unlike red light cameras used in many cities. The license plates will be searched only in an effort to solve a reported crime. And the photos will be stored for only 30 days.
“We are not going to amass this huge pile of data on who went in and out of Tiburon every day,” Cronin said. “We are not even going to know that unless we think a particular vehicle had something to do with a crime.”
One of the main goals, he said, is to reduce the number of burglaries committed by outsiders who drive into Tiburon and Belvedere.
“It’s hard to get around in our society without owning a car, and most criminals do,” the chief observed.
The decision to install cameras was prompted by the case of a well-dressed woman who drove to Tiburon in a Mercedes several times and stole mail from homes in quiet residential neighborhoods as part of a sophisticated identity-theft ring.
Cronin realized that being able to know what cars entered the town around the time of the thefts would have made catching her far easier. She was eventually arrested and convicted, but Cronin said, “That was sort of a catalyst for me.”
Many communities have license-plate cameras, which can catch speeders and stolen vehicles. Such was the case last week in Washington, D.C., when police were investigating the apparent murder of an American University professor. They caught up with her stolen Jeep through a license-plate camera, according to The Washington Post.
“Shortly before midnight, the Cherokee passed one of the District’s license-plate recognition sensors, which are programmed to alert police to stolen vehicles,” the Post reported. “The sensor transmitted a message to police dispatchers that the Jeep was in the area, officials said.”
What makes Tiburon’s system unique is that it will record every car that comes into the community.
Tiburon’s main crime problem is burglaries of houses and vehicles, with losses of up to half a million dollars a year. Over a 10-year period, the system’s cost will be less than the cost of employing a police officer for two years, the chief said.
“This is a very safe community,” he said. “People feel very safe here, and they often leave their cars unlocked. And people have nice things, and they leave them in their car. Petty criminals looking for easy pickings are attracted to neighborhoods like ours.”
May 5, 2010
by Sebastian Smith
New York officials say they could stop attacks like the attempted Times Square car bomb by expanding a controversial surveillance system so sensitive that it will pick up even suspicious behavior.
New York is already a heavily policed city, with 35,000 officers and a counterterrorism bureau — the first of its kind in the country — partnering the FBI.
But Saturday’s failed terrorist bomb in the Times Square tourist hot spot has provided the authorities with a new argument for expanding a sometimes controversial security blanket of cameras, sensors and analytical software.
The system “will greatly enhance our ability and the ability of the police to detect suspicious activity in real time, and disrupt possible attacks,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday.
The high-tech system, modeled on the “ring of steel” in London’s financial district, is already in service in lower Manhattan, where Wall Street and the World Trade Center reconstruction site are located.
Headquartered at 55 Broadway, the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative goes far beyond the traditional hodgepodge of police cameras, such as the 82 devices installed around Times Square.
Instead, an integrated system maintains an unblinking eye, not just watching, but constantly collecting license plate numbers and video of pedestrians and drivers, as well as detecting explosives and other weapons.
An important component of the program is coordination between the police network and private businesses’ cameras, something that has not been established in Times Square, causing detectives significant extra work.
Also, a separate, but similar program called Operation Sentinel plans to log every vehicle entering Manhattan island by scanning their license plates and checking for radiation.
Last October, Bloomberg announced plans to expand the lower Manhattan system into Midtown, including the Times Square area.
On Sunday, New York police chief Raymond Kelly reiterated the plan and used the occasion to press for more federal funding from Washington.
Kelly also gave details about the system, explaining how the aim is for “analytic software” allowing experts to make sense of raw information in real time.
For example, alarms would trigger when cameras noticed an unattended bag or a car circling a block too many times to be considered normal, Kelly said.
“This is a whole new area for us,” he told Fox News. “We’re very enthusiastic about it.”
Bloomberg said the city has budgeted “more than 110 million dollars to expanding the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative and incorporating it with the Midtown Manhattan Security Initiative.”
That large-scale, yet simultaneously detailed intelligence gathering clearly pays in some terrorism investigations.
Officials point out that acquiring the ingredients for a bomb or weapons exposes plotters to precisely the kind of surveillance New York is promoting.
Kelly noted on Fox News that Afghan immigrant Najibullah Zazi found it “very difficult to get explosives” for his plan to bomb the New York subway system. A major piece of evidence against him was security camera footage of a shopping trip for chemicals in Colorado.
Similarly, although the Times Square bomber tried to disguise the car, it was still quickly traced, providing detectives with an important lead.
But while law enforcement officials tout a brave new world of security, rights groups fear a “big brother” presence violating fundamental privacy.
The New York Civil Liberties Union has sued the Department of Homeland Security in an attempt to extract more information about the Manhattan security system and to
know how the information will be used, shared and stored.
The irony is that the lowest tech responses can sometimes best the most sophisticated gizmo.
The misfiring of a device hidden in the underpants of a Nigerian passenger and the quick reaction by others on the US-bound flight prevented potential tragedy in a December 25 attempted airliner attack.
And in Times Square, a vigilant street vendor and nearby beat cop — not a computer — raised the alert on the suspicious vehicle.
“Think about the street vendor. Think about the passengers on the flight on Christmas Day,” said Republican congressman Pete Hoekstra.
“All of these people perhaps were the difference between a major disaster and actually what happened: a failed terrorist attack.”
February 12, 2010
Police have confirmed that forces in England and Wales are passing up to 14m reads per day from automatic numberplate recognition cameras to a national database.
All but two of England and Wales’ police forces are passing data to the National ANPR Data Centre, run by the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).
ACPO told GC that the centre is currently taking data from 10,502 ANPR enabled cameras. Forces use their own equipment, but also take data from converted CCTV cameras run by local authorities. It added that the centre is currently recording 10m to 14m numberplates per day, although it has the capacity for 50m.
The numberplate data, including tightly cropped images of the plates, is held by the centre for two years. ACPO said it has no plans to extend this to five years, a figure cited in earlier police documents about the centre. “ACPO and the NPIA are currently working with the Information Commissioner’s Office to ensure that data retention is appropriate and proportionate,” said a spokesperson.
The ICO said it is still in discussions over the matter. “The ICO recognises that automatic number plate recognition can assist in the detection and prevention of crime. However, it is important that where large amounts of personal information are collected and retained adequate safeguards are in place to protect individuals’ privacy,” it said.
“Any prolonged retention would need to be clearly justified based on continuing value, not on the mere chance it may come in useful. We are currently speaking with the relevant organisations involved to ensure any retention period proposed is in compliance with the (Data Protection) Act.”
Some police forces also use their ANPR cameras to capture larger images of drivers and passengers for up to one year, although these are not stored on ACPO’s central database.
Police forces refuse to disclose the location of their ANPR cameras, although a few systems, such as London’s congestion charging cameras, are known to provide such data to the police. ACPO refused to say how many cameras each force has in use.
The number of police cameras is significantly more than the 6,600 ANPR units run by the Highways Agency and Trafficmaster. These do not transmit full numberplates, as they are used to calculate the speed of traffic over sections of road.
Columbia Daily Tribune
By Brennan David
A $200,000 COPS — or Community Oriented Policing Services — technology grant will fund license plate and iris scanners for patrol vehicles and the Boone County Jail. The grant is a small chunk of a $1.45 million grant awarded to the Central Missouri Criminal Justice Information System, which will receive a total of $4 million in grants by 2012. The system is made up of seven Mid-Missouri counties that in 2009 began receiving federal grant money through the U.S. Department of Justice to upgrade information technology systems.
David Severson, Osage Beach police chief and system organizer, said upgrading systems will better equip officers to fight crime.
“If a guy was working the road in Osage Beach and he saw a suspicious vehicle, he needs information on that vehicle,” Severson said. “That vehicle could have been involved in a St. Louis murder earlier that day. He needs to have that information while in his car, not later.”
The grant calls for the sheriff’s department and Columbia police to each receive two license plate scanners to attach to patrol vehicles and portable and tethered iris scanners. A permanent iris scanner will be placed at the Boone County Jail so scanning can become part of the booking process, building a database.
“It’s not here to replace fingerprints but to complement it,” said Mike Southard of Sure Scan Technology of Jefferson City.
The iris scan takes a photo of the eye and uses 240 identifiable points of an eye to create a file. The portable device will be used on occasions when identifying a suspect is difficult, Boone County sheriff’s Capt. Chad Martin said, as well as during booking.
Information collected will be stored on a Boone County sheriff’s server and also will be available to law enforcement departments statewide that can access the Missouri Data Exchange. The goal is to get all Missouri counties to create databases to share, Severson said.
In terms of data sharing, the same will apply for the Mobile Plate Hunter 900 Series cameras. The system includes two cameras mounted on a patrol car that automatically scan and process license plate numbers of vehicles parked or driving nearby. A computer instantaneously cross-references the license plate numbers against a database containing license plate numbers of wanted vehicles or suspects linked to those vehicles.
The database is updated at least twice a day by the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, as well as law enforcement agencies that enter the license plate numbers of stolen vehicles or vehicles whose owners have outstanding warrants or are linked to a missing-person case.
A match sounds an alarm in the patrol car that alerts the officer, said Matthew Maxwell of ELSAG North America, the license plate manufacturer. The system can scan more than 3,000 license plates per day and is only limited by an officer’s ability to drive through areas where cars are plentiful.
“This item increases the officer’s safety,” he said. “It keeps both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.”
The sheriff’s department and Columbia police tested the scanner for a 60-day period in 2009. The sheriff’s department netted six arrests and discovered five vehicles with stolen license plates. Columbia police reported 10 arrests and the recovery of a stolen vehicle.