Somebody's Watching You

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Wall Street Journal reporter Julia Angwin explains the rise of license plate tracking and how surveillance of seemingly mundane activities is growing. Her article, "New Tracking Frontier: Your License Plates," written with Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, appeared in the September 29 issue of The Wall Street Journal.


Julia Angwin

Comments [23]

i was under the impression that the cameras were originally designed to look for cars with no insurance . This is a huge problem in many areas especially Brooklyn. I believe Brooklyn has the highest number of cars registered in Pennsylvania in NYS. Pennsylvania had , maybe still has a non computerized system, so there were cases of 78 cars registered to an address that was an empty lot, or 50 cars registered to one family house.
The NYC people would travel there to register their car illegally, they were able to get the insurance card and Penn plate with one low installment, and they now would go back to Brooklyn.. They would usually never make any additional insurance payments.
When they were involved in a crash in NYC , the Pennsylvania insurance company, seeing the location of the crash and getting other information from the crash report, realized that fraud was involved and investigated further and the claim is denied and insurance voided due to fraudulent information. If you were a pedestrian or bicyclist, without automobile insurance, you could be in real trouble as you could be gravely injured , and have very little coverage and be unable to sue, since the drivers had no assets. A person who owned an auto would have insurance protecting them against under insured or non insured drivers, one reason to max out your sup insurance if you are a bicyclist.

Oct. 03 2012 01:07 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Ms. Angwin mentioned but didn't name anti-tracking software--could the show follow up & post a link to sources of these programs on this page?

Oct. 03 2012 12:41 PM
Marcus Garfunkel from NYC

Is the "front of hood" camera tracking going on while the Police car is parking and unoccupied as well? In other words, if a police car is parked on the side of the road with no one in it, does it still track cars that are passing along side it on the raod? If so, is it only tracking while the car is "on"?


Oct. 03 2012 12:39 PM
Tina from Queens

Give your phone to your accomplice, or even better, tie it to your cat's collar - somewhere in Massachusets - and, then, travel back to NYC, phoneless, and rob your ex-husband's girlfriend house. Everything inside is bought with your hard earned money anyway. He just had a better lawyer, when he took half at divorce :)))
VOILA your alibi!

Oct. 03 2012 12:39 PM
John A

I probably should punch in here that Palestinians are surveilled routinely by air with the constant threat of extrajudicial death. Makes our paltry little parking ticket concerns shrink a bit, Eh?

Oct. 03 2012 12:37 PM
Susannah from CT

All seems like a burden to be watched until you become a victim of a terrible crime!

Oct. 03 2012 12:35 PM

Just turning off tracking on your web browser may do some good against those setting cookies, but you are still broadcasting your IP address, so tracking is still possible.

The Tor clients I linked to can avoid this.

Oct. 03 2012 12:35 PM
Raj Goel from nyc

Leonard, Julia,

I've been speaking and writing about this issue for over a decade.

Here's a webinar you might want to share with your listeners.

Oct. 03 2012 12:33 PM

For those interested in avoiding tracking when browsing, check out the Tor Project:

Oct. 03 2012 12:33 PM
Christine from Yorktown

Is it really any surprise that people hand over serial number of i-phones when they put all their info out on Facebook and other web sites? Either people don't care that much about privacy or they're really naive to how this info gets used.

Oct. 03 2012 12:33 PM
BK from NYC

a friend of mine had a psychological break in 2005 & disappeared. we hired a private investigator who was able to find her through her cell phone - there were calls made to amtrak & a hotel where she was eventually found after 4 days of being missing.

Oct. 03 2012 12:30 PM
ellen from hackensack

I was astonished that, when people lined up to buy their new I-phones last week, the NYC police were outside registering everyone's serial numbers -- and announcing this as a program to protect you against phone theft -- and no one complained about the surveillance issues!

Oct. 03 2012 12:25 PM

Didn't some higher court just recently report on police attaching trackers/bugs to cars?

With regard to cell phones: When you know that you are not going to need your phone for a while, just wrap it _thoroughly_ in aluminum foil. You will be creating a Faraday Cage for your phone, completely isolating it electrodynamically. When you need the phone again, unwrap it, and it will ping for cell phone tower.

Oct. 03 2012 12:25 PM
fuva from harlemworld

Hey, that we're "mostly unaware of" this technology and increased surveillance invalidates them. Period.
That private businesses have access to these data is outrageous.
Such game-changing technological developments need to be prominently announced before application, for public vetting.

Oct. 03 2012 12:24 PM
Christine from Yorktown

The government having the info is probably not too harmful. I dont think they have the intelligence to make use of any of this. Having private firms have it is another story. Private firms with money looking to make money will find use for info. And with computer capabilities these days, there's plenty to do with it.

Note to Truth and Beauty: parked on a street, in plain sight you have no reason to expect privacy. It's open info.

Oct. 03 2012 12:24 PM

@hjs11211 — The catch: There are also cameras and associated software mapping _faces_ and _walking styles_.

Oct. 03 2012 12:21 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Isn't this in violation of the 4th Amendment Search and Siezure clause? They have no right to search without evidence or a warrant. Has this been contested in court?

Oct. 03 2012 12:19 PM

In Boston, perhaps in New York, license plate numbers of city and state officials were _unassociated_ with names, ostensibly for the protection of the public official. The substantive consequence was that these plate holders could speed, park wherever they pleased, commit any moving violation with the absolute assurance that there would be no way to track them.

Is this the case also for these new license plate trackers — that Romney- or Bloomberg-style 'VIPs' are exempt from tracking?

Oct. 03 2012 12:19 PM
JimC from N NJ

All the police departments in Bergen County NJ are using the license plate surveillance systems ... every plate in view is read, and automatically checked via digital radio with the computer data base and the car officer gets a report immediately if there are any warrants or other reasons to stop the vehicle ... this application could be lauded as being effective at catching scofflaws (and worse). The question is whether the data is retained or not. And even if we make it illegal to retain the data, how do you prove that the cops are not retaining it anyway?

Oct. 03 2012 12:17 PM

YET another reason not to have a car. i'm safe!

Oct. 03 2012 12:16 PM

There have already been numerous reports of fixed cameras on city streets, buildings, etc., being used to spy on people, especially women in their homes. Back when the Village Voice actually did reporting, it had several stories on this.

With regard to the license plate readers, I wonder whether they are countermeasures (NSA, please feel free to track me, make sure to read my rants on the descent of the US into fascism). Certain kinds of directed lights (LEDs, perhaps, or infrared emitters) might be perfectly safe for people, but could effectively blind cameras... Just speculating.

Oct. 03 2012 12:16 PM
Bob from Flushing

This kind of "routine" surveillance of everyone all the time is what we would have expected from the STASI (or, maybe GOOGLE).

Oct. 03 2012 12:13 PM
John A

The TV show that covers a form of this technology is the possibly nutty (I don't watch it) "Person of Interest".
I appreciate the 'reality watch' that is here in your story.

Oct. 03 2012 12:13 PM

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