By on November 17, 2015

taurus2

Like the song says, I always feel like… somebody’s watching me. But rarely are they as obvious as this old Taurus I spotted north of Columbus, Ohio over the weekend.

What’s going on here, B&B?


taurus1

Are these radar guns? Automated number plate readers? Illuminati mind-control devices? And what are they doing on a decade-old Taurus with rust on the rear quarter-panels, driven by some indifferent-looking twenty-something in the traditional Ohio white-trash uniform of sunglasses and backwards ballcap?

Honestly, they don’t look like any radar guns or plate readers I’ve ever seen. But I expect that a TTAC reader will know what’s going on here. Is this being done for profit? It seems unlikely that a municipality would sell a vehicle with the mystery devices still attached.

So let’s hear your theories, B&B — and I’ll keep researching the topic myself to find out more. I’d have found out something from the driver of the Taurus, but once he realized I was photographing him he managed to make an unexpected left turn and quit the scene.

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71 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture: Surveillance In The Age Of Taurus Edition...”


  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    Probably Progressive Insurance’s new “Snapshot” device. Flo is always watching.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I think that they’re plate readers. My guess is that the car belongs to a PI or repo company — these days, plate readers are being used by the repo man to locate cars.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      This is my guess as well. I could totally see a repo company fitting plate readers to a cheap vehicle like this, and just moving to another cheapo-mobile when it wears out.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Yep, I think you’re right.

      http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/2013/08/license-plate-scanners-when-does-surveillance-go-too-far/

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The MPR piece wrongly presumes that only the cops have this stuff. The technology is available to the public, and is already being used to locate cars to be repo’d and to datamine the rest of us.

        http://abc7.com/news/repo-industry-collecting-data-on-you/379656/

        http://www.nbcnews.com/news/other/license-plate-data-not-just-cops-private-companies-are-tracking-f6C10684677

    • 0 avatar
      DeeDub

      I thought so too at first, but (1) plate readers are usually only mounted on the trunk lid, not the hood, and (2) the rear units aren’t aimed correctly for plate readers.

      If there are any colleges nearby, my guess is that it’s some compsci kids using a cheap beater for an autonomous/assisted driving project.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff Weimer

        My guess is that the angled readers on the front are for reading street-parked cars and the sideways readers are for driveway-parked cars and both can be useful for parking lots depending on how they are laid out.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        I’ve seen them on the hood of repo tow trucks around here.

      • 0 avatar
        cdotson

        Around where I live cops routinely put four cameras across the leading edge of the hood (two on hood pointing out at an angle, one on each fender pointing near sideways) and four across the trunk lid. They park their white Charger so equipped in the grassy median of a divided 6-lane suburban thoroughfare between trees or large bushes to obscure their presence. I don’t know if it’s part manhunt procedure, or if they’re that serious about expired registration.

        Supposedly the Roanoke TV shooter was nabbed by a VA state trooper whose cruiser’s ALPR system ID’d the plate number of his rental car.

    • 0 avatar

      Yup. Standard issue plate readers. Our Village uses them to monitor our parking lots. I’m going with someone trolling for repo plates….a hit and lead can be worth money.

  • avatar
    dirkd

    Is that a former rural mail delivery car? Looks like the steering wheel is on the right (or is the photo reversed)?

  • avatar
    Macca

    Perhaps they’re newfangled hi-def deer whistles.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    What were you in, Jack? An Terrain or a Patriot or something?

    Comments above got it, plate reader car.

  • avatar
    cwallace

    Google having robot car in America? Is much inspirational- Putin to build robot car too! With having cameras on all corners for what to get best view of road. Will use also American car as mule. Flip pictures backwards on Internet, making Russian technology much hard to steal.

    Sneaky, I has it.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Lets look at it, its an MY00-03 because the grille and facia change slightly for MY04, the trunk chrome piece gets painted, and the wheels change. The wheels look spiffy, the body clean, and the overall package almost new which is nearly impossible for an MY00-03, in Ohio, in the year 2015 – I feel as if I am looking at a CPO in 2005.

    *thinking cap on*

    Ok so who buys fleet cars brand new, doesn’t drive them, and has the resources to store them for twelve to fifteen years so when they come out to be used it looks like a timewarp?

    1. Old people.
    2. University or Government motorpool.

    1. Well it could have been grandma’s car some hacker bought, then set up some sort of surveillance system, and is now driving around collecting data. I’m not seeing much of a motive for this.

    2. Most university owned vehicles, even if not driven, are not so well cared for so I’m skeptical (Pitt and CMU had cars like this back in the day but they were all dinged up and abused looking despite miles/use). It is conceivable this is some OSU fleet special which was lent/given to some grad student in order to gather data from some IT project. Maybe. I think more likely this is some branch of government, most likely state or federal unethically gathering data to keep order in the prison they are turning the nation into. Seriously.

    System of a Down called it in 2001.

    http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/systemofadown/prisonsong.html

  • avatar
    ltcmgm78

    Looks a lot like the equipment they used in Detroit and Philadelphia on “Parking Wars”.

  • avatar
    Fred

    Looks like the driver is on the phone.

  • avatar
    TDIGuy

    We have a city “road survey” truck come through here once a week. However their cameras point down. Could be a street view type project of some sort. However if they were acting dodgy as Jack says, perhaps some sort of paranoid surveillance or impersonation. Something along the lines of people who drive around in fake cop cars.

    I suppose if you have some way of looking up the license plate #, (or even report it to the police) you could at least find out if it really is government or university vehicle as some suggested.

  • avatar
    boozysmurf

    These are number-plate readers. There’s one on each side of the car because…

    They’re for use in parking lots, by the lot-owner. I’ve started seeing IMPARK cars wearing them in the last year in Ottawa, ON. The “shield” that gives the vehicle permission to be there is registered to match a license plate, so that you can’t use the shield for silly things like carpooling/sharing: if the shield is in a car and it doesn’t match the plate on the car, you still get a ticket (ask me how I know).

    It’s a quick way for the companies to verify whether the plate should be there, then check the shield if it exists, and get a ticket out quickly (I assume, also provides photo evidence of the vehicle being there in the case of someone fighting the ticket).

    The cynic in me says that this is good for the company, because they’re not actually in the business of providing parking, but rather, they’re in the business of writing as many tickets as possible.

    • 0 avatar
      sproc

      That seems redundant. If you’re going to verify legitimate parkers by their license plate, why even issue a physical shield/tag/sticker? The license plate itself can serve as your permit (or lack thereof).

    • 0 avatar
      formula m

      Ottawa is ridiculous for parking tickets. I was blessed with one for being parked on my street at the end of my driveway for excess of 3hours during the day last week. $40-early pay $60-late. This is a quiet street in a 3yr old subdivision deep in the suburbia of Kanata.

  • avatar
    northshoreman1

    Definitely license plate readers, maybe by repo folks but may also be a contractor working for either the state or insurance companies.
    Here in Louisiana, like most states, you’re required to have liability insurance. The next step was installing license plate readers in various New Orleans-area municipalities, which were run by local policing agencies. The insurance companies then provide data to the state on all lapsed policies (exactly what data, beyond owner’s name/vehicle/license plate number, I’m not sure). The state matches that data against their records, then when the owner attempts to renew his drivers license, auto registration, or state inspection, he’s automatically assessed a fine ($500+) if he’s ever been reported as “lapsed coverage”.
    This plan was scheduled for state-wide implementation, but that was scuttled by a last minute veto from the governor, despite the fact he’d originally pushed for the bill’s passage, as I’m told. And, to speed implementation, independent contractors could be used to drive around and collect data on behalf of insurance companies for submission to the state.
    Since no system is perfect, thousands of Louisiana residents discovered they’d been listed as having lapsed coverage, even though they’d been covered because they’d switched to another carrier. This discovery was made as the state attempted to collect on outstanding fines going back almost ten years ago. Of course it was up to the owner to prove that he’d maintained coverage.
    I learned of all of this when I’d read an article raising privacy concerns, since up until recently, the data collected for the last almost 10 years was available unsecured online to anyone willing to nose around and find it. Great for tracking your kids, an unfaithful spouse, etc.
    See, it’s all for your own good….

  • avatar
    zamoti

    They’re called ALPRs and they’re quite common. I’ve seen plenty of them around town, but not on an unmarked car. It’s not anything special or new, it’s just that they’re mobile also. They are at every toll booth you could ever drive through, and they are sometimes found in traffic/red light cameras. The mobile versions are apparently used for prowling parking lots and other places on an as-needed basis.
    I removed my front plate and back into spots a lot more than I used to. I also have a tinfoil hat and it looks awesome.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      http://www.ncsl.org/research/telecommunications-and-information-technology/2014-state-legislation-related-to-automated-license-plate-recognition-information.aspx#2015

    • 0 avatar
      Fred

      I’ve been pulled over in California and Texas for not having a front plate.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      Better not be in Ohio, I’ve gotten tickets for missing front plates.

      • 0 avatar
        zamoti

        I am indeed in Ohio, just a scofflaw. I keep the front plate in the trunk for when I have to park in the street (I put it in the windshield). Otherwise, has not been a problem. I’ve been around officers in traffic, they presumably had a clear view of me, nobody seems to care that much. FWIW, I didn’t actually remove it to dodge the ALPRs, my car just looks dumb with a front plate and lacks the bracket anyway. Like hell am I going to drill holes in my 11 year old crapmobile just to make THE MAN happy.
        When I lived in LA, I swear they would come and find me, I got a LOT of missing front plate tickets. They never made me fix it, guess they just liked the money. Of course spotting a lime-green Miata was probably easy money every time.

        • 0 avatar
          Nick_515

          Wait… That’s only because you guys are from states that require two plates right?

          I keep a single back MN plate in upstate NY. No fines. Not sure anybody notices that i should have two. It’s hard to find that special bracket necessary, because the car was from Tennessee without an original front plate. I won’t paying two hundred for a stupid plastic bracket.

          And yellow nys plates on silver cars looks terrible.

          • 0 avatar
            cdotson

            When I moved from Georgia (single plate state) to Virginia (2 plate state with gestapo public revenue generation forces) I took my truck to the dealer for its first state inspection because the January weather in VA showed me how necessary a functional defroster was at the same time I had to get my truck registered. The dealer charged me $12 for a license plate bracket. I can’t tell you how many cars I’ve seen with front plates screwed directly into the plastic bumper cover without a bracket and it looks fine.

            Now I hate(d) the fact that screw holes have to go in the bumper cover. Front plates are ugly as sin and should be banned everywhere. But a $200 bracket complaint is dollars to donuts BS from someone who hasn’t made an attempt to be legal and has been lucky to not get caught yet.

          • 0 avatar
            WildcatMatt

            Yeah, the NYS Empire plates were awesome, and then they were replaced with that monstrosity that looks like it was whipped out by some teenager with a pirated copy of Photoshop.

            Delaware plates FTW, btw.

    • 0 avatar
      56BelAire

      I think they are zombie scanners.

  • avatar
    Mr. Orange

    Doesn’t Ohio require two license plates on vehicles*?

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Yes.

      That being said, I don’t do it and have never been pulled over. Depends on the part of the state you’re in. Border area like I am with IN and KY, you can get away with it. Columbus where Jack is, not so much.

      They are considering doing away with the 2 plate requirement because it will save the state lots of money doing duplicate plates. I’m in favor.

  • avatar
    spamvw

    This is why I’m sticking an “original” 1985 plate on the Van, Little tougher for the average out of state database reader to read. Still legal as far as MN law goes.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Another data collection outrage. But are they collecting enough with sufficiently granular intrusiveness?

    I’m guessing no, since some Americans still feel slighted at having not yet been *visited* about anything no matter how many articles like this they spread around the internets.

    It’s like Big Brother has ADD or something.

  • avatar
    SC5door

    Repo company.

    Usually the tow trucks drive with them on the hoods, but since people tend to watch out for the trucks this is a much better way. The car is able to get around parking lots much faster. They also tend to sell the data to other agencies.

    http://abc7.com/news/repo-industry-collecting-data-on-you/379656/

  • avatar
    otter

    Yes, these are ALPR cameras. My employer (a large American city) uses them as part of its parking-enforcement work. They are very good – you can do a drive-by at 35mph and get the plate on every car you pass.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    Ah the 00-07 Taurus, decontented and de-styled to be much less polarizing. They make up about 50% of the BHPH lot near my ‘hood. The other vehicles on the lot are approximately 20% GM N-body (grand am, malibu), 20% GM W-body (Impala, Century, Grand Prix, Intrigue), the remainder is Chrysler LH and 2nd gen cloud cars, and a smattering of 1990s domestic SUVs.

    I almost want to buy one of these beater-ish vehicles just to fit in a bit better. Less to worry about in the Kroghetto parking lot.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I respect the DN101 as a beater but I don’t think I want one again.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        I keep getting drawn back to the latest generation Tauri, low mile ’13-’14 SELs and Limiteds seem to sell for silly cheap. I hate how poorly the interior is packaged given how excellent the original Ford Five Hundred was in that regard, but man $15k for an almost new fullsized highway cruiser with a nice V6 and heated leather seats sounds great! I’m a sucker for good value.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          Wait until Ford drops the Taurus and values might fall even more.

          The Taurus has the 6F transmission you aren’t fond of, but luckily it’s the 6F50/55. It’s a more robust version. By now, the early issues should be gone as well. If you ever bought one, I’d recommend changing the transmission fluid, just because you don’t know who’s been driving it.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            With these, my big worry is the water pump that is buried inside the engine and seems to occasionally start leaking (coolant goes right into the engine oil). 10-12 hours of labor by the book to replace it. My closest encounter with this platform has been in rental Explorer Limiteds. The engine seems plenty strong power wise, transmission shifting I wasn’t as huge of a fan of but it wasn’t bad either. I like that these Tauri have huge trunks and are relaxing highway cruisers. All that wasted interior space translates into a very secure feeling when driving. The car is basically an SUV that happens to be in the shape of a sedan. They’re tall, large cars. I found a ’14 SEL with reasonably non-oversized rims, leather interior, and a basic non-MFT stereo/center stack, for a very reasonable price (IMO):

            http://www.cars.com/vehicledetail/detail/648491167/overview/

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Yeah, the 10 hour book time is no bueno.

      • 0 avatar
        matador

        The mathematical part of my brain keeps telling me that they’re a logical choice, but it’s impossible to become excited over these. They make vanilla ice cream look like a wild and crazy flavor.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

          And the other cars in their class are so much more exciting? Just about every similar car is also devoid of personality and style by car-guy standards. Nothing in this size/price class is intended to ignite some firey passion deep within your soul. If that is what youre after, Ford makes plenty of Mustang GTs, FoST/FiSTs, Raptors, etc.

          • 0 avatar
            matador

            I think you’re talking about the new Tauruses?? I’m talking about the 2000-2007 version. I think the new Tauruses are a nice car- I may get one after 10 years or so, depending on reliability….

            The early 2000s Taurus is as bland as I can think of. We owned a 2000 Impala- even that was more exciting. Heck- I think my 1995 LeSabre has a better interior than those cars did.

            They made it so conservative that conservatives are bored with it….

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      Most of the $#¡ГГ¥ used lots I see are stocked full of Cobalts, Calibers (and the Jeep twins), Suzuki Daewoos, base model Chrysler LX cars (usually early ones, likely with the horrible 2.7L pos engine), and Altimas. Must have plenty of Altimas. You would think by looking at all the cars on their lots that alloy wheels are out of style and thus very rare. There used to be plenty of rental-grade 04-07 Tauruses, but it seems that Blue Oval products are noticably absent here lately. Probably because the D3 cars go for too much at auction, as with Fusion, Escape, etc. “Why get a Fusion when we can get 3 Calibers?!” Lol! Sometimes there are rental-grade Focus, Versa and Fiesta sedans. Remember, they arent in the car business, they are in the loan business. Cars are besides the point. Im speaking of places that are only slightly above BHPH lots. Most of their inventory is comprised of former rentals and cars more reputable dealers would rather send to the auction than waste space on their own lots with when they are traded in.

      You can look for the LX cars to become “hood rich” by going to the BHPH wheels shop for a set of 22s. Bubble-intense do-it-yourself tint job, and EVERYTHING chromed out. Chrome door handles, chrome side trim, chrome window pillars, everything covered in chrome. Kids wear the same shirt for two school years? Not as important as another slab of chrome somewhere on the smoke-infested car. Faux Rolls-Royce Phantom grille if its a 300, and if its a Charger, it must be written in at least three places on the car that Chrysler never intended. Take it to Macco for a “high quality” (2 year) paint job, must be some eye-singing color like Hunter’s Vest Orange or Lime green. Dont worry, itll start flaking off long after the car is repoed, wrecked, or impounded.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    Okay, you guys got me. I was trying to find some info to use for blackmail purposes.

    Turns out that everyone tends to post the stupid crap they do to any number of social media venues, so Im out of business. :(

    Lol

  • avatar
    bk_moto

    These are automated license plate readers.

    Given the general crappiness of the car they’re affixed to, most likely either repo or a city contractor trying to find scofflaw / deadbeat vehicles.

    Here in NYC we have a thing Called city marshals which are not really public employees but private contractors. One of the things they’re responsible for is to identify cars to be towed for outstanding violations. They use these ALPRs nowadays as it makes things quite efficient.

    Likely this particular one is doing something similar. Or repo.

  • avatar

    As a ton of people have said, they are plate readers, most likely for a private repo company.

    There was a Wall Street Journal article that mentioned Final Notice, a big repo company in Baltimore, and I’ve seen cars around with similar camera rigs that I assume are theirs.

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10000872396390443995604578004723603576296

    http://fnrecovery.com/

  • avatar
    Wade.Moeller

    It’s the repo man’s recon patrol. Seen them cruising around the HEB in Odessa TX a couple times. The last time, there were LEOs watching them so I asked if it belonged to the PD. They said it was a for repo purposes and that the PD gets called out just about every time they visit because of suspicious activity calls.

  • avatar
    Commando

    http://tinypic.com/m/j15wzd/1

  • avatar
    redapple

    I go with the repo man idea.

    I give 2 weeks before they get spray painted.

  • avatar
    VolandoBajo

    They might be private detectives hired by the soon to be ex-husbands of some of those women from 2012, Jack, trying to find out where you are hanging out these days, in order to serve you to appear as a witness.

    From their perspective, you’d be perfect: she was an unfit mother, she was out screwing around while her children were at home.

    If it were me, I would have immediately gone into Mike Ehrmantraut tail-evasion maneuvers, just in case…

    Hope I’m wrong, but I got the willies enough times just from hanging with separated or recently-divorced women in another life, long ago and in a distant universe.

    And I can never get the picture out of my mind of a local biker in my college town who took a liking to a married woman. Seems her husband was a good ole boy who didn’t take kindly to that sort of thing.

    The biker met his fate as he was walking out of an all night greasy spoon one weekend night at about three or four am. The other guy never gave him his “three steps, mister”…he bought the farm from a double blast of 12 gauge buckshot.

    After that, I always understood why the floors, counters, etc, in those kinds of restaurants were usually made of tile…you could just hose them down and re-open.

    More than one guy I knew in that town started looking for a new love interest the next week after that happened.

    Stuff like that tends to make the front pages, even in a large college town.

    I wasn’t what you’d consider a very moral person back on those days, but I tended to consider “thou shalt not commit adultery” more as a survival strategy than as a joy-buster rule.

    Probably those ALPR’s are used for any and all of the reasons people have put forth: my narrow category, the revenue-raising applications by parking lots, hungry municipalities and greedy insurance companies wishing to enforce universal participation in their oligopolistic industry.

    But when I see someone interested in surveilling, I instinctively want to drive around the block to see if the surveilling they are doing might involve me in particular. And not because I have knowingly done anything particularly wrong, just because of the adage “just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that no one is after you.”

    But even if I did have reasons to be paranoid, I wouldn’t admit it, out of solidarity with the Fifth Amendment, and anyway it would have been a long time ago, and I didn’t do it anyway.

    That’s it, that’s the ticket!

    And they will not go away unless the public pushes for legislation to strictly regulate their use and/or the distribution of data that is collected. Which I hope might be the case, but have no reason to suppose will actually occur, unfortunately.

    Creeping 1984…

    What happens when they figure out that they can record conversation inside of homes from the street? Will the argument be that if it could be heard (even with acoustical aids) from the street, then it was “public speech”.

    If it comes to that, how will it differ in any way from what life was like in East Germany before the fall of the wall, or from what life is like today in North Korea?

    And who will be able to stop it, once it is in place on a large scale, if it is used to be sure to find something on anyone who opposes it.

    A classic strategy for tyrannies is to make sure that there are so many laws that virtually everyone is guilty of something. Then anyone who opposes the regime in power can simply be rounded up and prosecuted.

    But wait, this is America! This could NEVER happen here…most likely because in large part, it already has. All that remains is to continue extending it to its logical conclusion, just a little bit at a time, like boiling a frog in gradually heated water.

    Time for me to go to bed now, now that I have given myself ample material for nightmares.

    I am, however, encouraged by the comment that their over-under on the camera lens being spray painted was a week.

    Footnote: as to the comment accusing you of humblebragging, I believe it was Dizzy Dean who used to say that if you could do it, it wasn’t bragging.

    On the one hand, I could help you with your Spanish. On the other hand, it doesn’t sound like you need much help with your Spanish. On further reflection, you might even be able to expand the horizons of my Spanish.

    Spiciness is the spice of life. And life is meant to be enjoyed. Just try to dodge the dodgy situations. I don’t want you to become a best-selling author because you met an early end. You can get there anyway, without checking out early.

    So don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. It won’t hinder you that much, I’m sure. ;-)

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