Hundreds of city police license plate cams are insecure and can be watched by anyone

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Why am I laughing?

Yeah, so I’ll just be leaving the license plate off my new car a little longer than planned. At least cops in California don’t seem to care about that, for now.

Here in NYC, traffic cams are fed to a public access cable tv channel, the channel rotates through the available cameras showing traffic conditions at various intersections and stretches of major roadways throughout the city. I love this channel, and is the main thing I miss after having dumped my cable service. It is very entertaining, relaxing and informative to watch.

So cool!


To me, the setup you described is apples (Big Apples even) to the article’s oranges. Those NYC traffic cameras were set up intentionally to broadcast (broadcasting was a feature not a “feature”), they are set up high enough and are a low enough resolution that you can’t (at least in the publicly available feed) read license plates, and they have what I feel is a purpose that’s in the public interest (letting people know real-time road conditions so they can change their routes to help mitigate traffic problems a bit.)


This fucken bullshit right here. How the hell does such a provision stand scrutiny? I’ve driven one or another vehicle in most of the United States so between RFID readers capturing my EZ-PASS info and these license plate scanners, the US state security apparatus knows where I’ve driven since…I don’t know…time immemorial? Here’s the thing–I drove those routes without being a terrorist, or robbing anyone, or carrying gross quantities of illegal pharmaceuticals, so why the hell is the security state keeping records of my travels indefinitely?

Oh, right. Because, potentially, I could do any one of those things in the future, and that information would be useful…for some reason. Oy vey.


Personally I think any cameras installed/run/used with tax dollars on public property should be open/available to the public.


I think that’s as it should be. The key to undermining a surveillance state is to not have it be a privileged thing accessed by an unaccountable few. I am not crazy about having cameras everywhere, but my only condition of accepting them is that they are accessible to anyone.

I am not clear why them showing license plates would inconvenience people, since these are publicly visible anyway. But people are weird about treating automotive stuff as separate and special. For example, with my previous job, I had to look up customer’s liquor licenses in a state database. I could search by license number, person’s name, business name, address, as well as other things. And it wasn’t only liquor licenses, it was any professional license issued by the state. YET - they treat drivers licenses completely differently, as if they are confidential personal info in some way that other licenses are not.

Basically, my take on it is that governments aren’t allowed to own property or information. Government property is public property, and government data is public data.


I understand what you’re saying, but there are some consequences of your condition that I think are powerful arguments against opening up access to everyone. I know these scenarios are hypothetical but I believe they’re not unrealistic. Consider someone who is being stalked – a stalker with access to traffic cameras could use the information to monitor their target’s movements from a distance, perhaps using them to determine when their target is alone and they can move in for a more personal interaction. Or consider a group of thieves using license plate data to ensure that a homeowner is far enough away from their residence to give the burglars a chance to rob the place without interference.

To some extent, yes. But I don’t want Joe Schmoe to have access to the financial data I am required, by law, to give to the IRS (unless there’s a very good reason and unless Joe cannot or will not reveal it to anyone.). I don’t want Joe to have access to the armory on the military base in town despite the fact the property is owned by the government (again, unless there’s a very good reason, like he’s in the armed forces.) I don’t want Joe to have access to information on where persons in the Witness Protection Program are located (see the standard disclaimer.)

There are sometimes valid reasons why access to government property and data should be restricted. I can agree with a slightly weaker form of what you said: government data is public data UNLESS there is a strong need for it to remain private, and in this scenario there does not appear to be such a strong need.

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Good. This bothers me not. I feel safer with a publicly available cam than one exclusive to “law enforcement,”

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“Don’t collect what you can’t secure”

Beautifully simple.

I can’t help but feel like it would be instructive for everyone involved if some good citizen could cross-reference this information against a registry of patrol car license plates and use it to reconstruct their activities.


You make some compelling arguments, and I somewhat agree on the whole. Your metaphorical stalker, for instance, would also be trackable by those same license plate cameras such that the stalkee (or the state, for that matter) could monitor that person’s location. We’re leaving a lot of the technical details out, obviously, but I agree that things like this will become easier with time.

In terms of restricted data kept by the gov’t, any data falling under your “strong need” for privacy should also be subject to some sort of independent overseer/ombudsman so that we’re not stuck having to listen to yet another agency director tell us why we’re not good enough to know which data has been collected about us. And frankly, while I believe there’s an ombudsman at the CIA and NSA, I’m not sure if that’s helped anyone.

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