You probably don’t know much about Vigilant Systems, but the company likely knows more about you than you know about them. That because Vigilant Systems is in the business of knowing. The company has so far collected about 2.8 billion license plate photos with its network of cameras, and every month it adds another 70-80 million photos, including a timestamp of the photo and geographic location of the plate, to Vigilant Solutions’ permanent storage. They sell that data to police departments and, depending on the jurisdiction, even some private sector institutions, such as insurance companies investigating fraud.
Vigilant Solutions’ deals with government agencies have raised concerns about civil liberties, freedom of movement, privacy and mass surveillance. As Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic describes Vigilant Solutions, “your diminished privacy is their product.” (Read More…)
Two weeks ago, the B&B took the time to educate me about license plate readers and their various extra-legal uses. As someone who has worked at least part-time in the tech industry since the mid-90s, I started thinking about what the cost would be of a distributed plate-tracking business. Eventually the readers will be smaller and less obvious, at which point you throw a couple of bucks to Uber drivers and the like to toss them on all four corners and send you the data.
Given enough sources, eventually you’d be able to have a pretty good database of personal movement in your chosen area. That data is certainly worth money to someone, whether that “someone” is a real-estate developer, a fast-food franchisor or a private detective. Short of writing legislation specifically to stop such activity, I don’t see how anybody’s going to stop that business model from eventually becoming a reality.
In the meantime, however, there’s already one entity that has access to a nontrivial database of ANPR information. Good news! At least one government official has proposed that this information be used to save you from yourself.
An alert from one of the local news stations popped up on my screen last week asking readers to be on the lookout for a stolen unmarked police cruiser. My first instinct was to warn family and friends that an impersonator was out on the loose. Once I got the word out, I started analyzing the situation and thinking about vehicle tracking. I wondered why the local police department did not equip their cruisers with some sort of GPS tracking device which could have allowed them to locate the vehicle quickly without putting the public at risk. I have some experience with GPS tracking in a couple of different fields and decided to do some research on patrol car GPS devices.
The report details a May lunch between TrueCar CEO Scott Painter, President John Krafcik and Senior Vice President of Dealer Development Mike Timmons, and AutoNation COO Bill Berman and Chief Marketing Officer Marc Cannon. At the lunch, TrueCar executives reportedly said they would require data from all AutoNation sales — regardless if they were generated by TrueCar — for the two companies to continue doing business.
“Over my dead body,” AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson said later, according to Automotive News.
Not too long ago, General Motors brought comfort to many a new 2015 Corvette Stingray owner with a feature that would do for them what teddy-bear cams did for concerned parents, recording audio, video and vehicle data when the key was given to the valet. Alas, the spyware could land the owner in legal hot water in a dozen states, to say the least.
Presently, V2V (vehicle to vehicle) and V2I (vehicle to infrastructure) technologies are meant to allow a vehicle so-equipped to better navigate its surroundings, and to exchange data with other vehicles like it. If law enforcement has its way, however, the red and blue lights in the rearview mirror could soon give way to the electric eye of automated enforcement.