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Canada's Massive Public Traffic Surveillance System 239

Posted by Soulskill
from the but-they're-really-polite-about-it dept.
New submitter cqwww writes "A small magazine in Victoria, BC just uncovered a massive public traffic surveillance system deployed in Canada. Here's a quote from the article: 'Normally, area police manually key in plate numbers to check suspicious cars in the databases of the Canadian Police Information Center and ICBC. With [Automatic License Plate Recognition], for $27,000, a police cruiser is mounted with two cameras and software that can read license plates on both passing and stationary cars. According to the vendors, thousands of plates can be read hourly with 95-98 percent accuracy. ... In August 2011, VicPD Information and Privacy Manager Debra Taylor called me to explain that, even though VicPD had the ALPR system in one of their cruisers, the [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] ran the system, and I should contact them for any information. "We actually don’t have a program," Taylor said. "We don’t have any documents per se." ... A month later, Taylor handed over 600 pages. ... [The claim they kept no documents] was apparently only in reference to digital information. VicPD had kept 500 pages of written, hard-copy logs of every ALPR hit they’d ever seen.'"
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Canada's Massive Public Traffic Surveillance System

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  • by mrclisdue (1321513) * on Saturday February 04, 2012 @05:04PM (#38929563)

    I'm a smug canuck, been far north and the whole works, and I've just felt a distinctive *chill* for the first time in my 50+ years.

    chills,

    • by game kid (805301)

      Damn. Well. Looks like law enforcement got mrclisdue before he could even sign the comment!

      I fear they recognize more than license plates now...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by davester666 (731373)

      This is NOT new. More than 5 years ago I read an article in a lower mainland newspaper describing how police had cars with this system, patrolling parking lots looking for stolen vehicles [at least, that's what they claimed they were looking for].

      And of course, there was no information as to was retained after each plate was 'checked'.

      Now, I wonder who is watching all those camera's that are located at each intersection in the lower mainland...

      • by ganjadude (952775)
        they have had these on NY trooper and even local cars for a number of years here now. Ours even check registration and inspection stickers as well as plates.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      There's a lot of potential for abuse with this system:

      1) They could track your every move. Where you shop, where you get your hair cut, when you go to the doctor, that you visit the hospital often (meaning you're being treated for something), that you eat fast food often, and WHO YOU MEET OR DATE (they could figure out you're gay, which many people prefer to keep secret).

      2) They could make you guilty by association. If you have coffee at Starbucks every morning at 8, and so does a criminal, they could easil

      • Let me guess you are from the US and are a republican.

        Sure the police COULD do that but there are laws against them doing that already. Ie if they were systematically surveying people without cause they would have a problem. A one off (or two off in the case of determining if someone was speeding or not) doesn't go to the same level as storing things and following them around constantly. As long as the system doesn't store information for say longer than a days worth of travel at a time I don't care. If I

  • by Dark$ide (732508) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @05:09PM (#38929603) Journal
    In Britain every police car has ANPR (auto number plate recognition). They also have access to the insurance companies and DoT databases. Their system can tell a) if it's stolen, b) if it's insured and c) if it has a valid roadworthiness certificate (MOT certificate).

    Anyone of those can trigger the boys in blue to give you a tug.

    • That - along with Coppers trying to fulfill their quota for the month.

    • by couchslug (175151) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @06:07PM (#38929965)

      Works for me. I pay MY insurance and don't care for some idiot crashing into me and causing damage he/she/it can't pay for.

      Likewise, the more stolen vehicles recovered the better for insurance rates. I don't steal cars, no problem.

      The PURPOSE of a license plate is to publicly identify the vehicle.

    • They can also apparently pull you if you have a similar in any way plate. try diff make of car and dark blue vs yellow. very embarrassing in a professional situation.

        The police in the UK have pulled me whilst i was stationary.
      Overzealous special police office.

      Do not trust the police they are in the main, like traffic warden.

    • Any girls in blue willing to give you a tug?

  • Uncovered? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by s4ltyd0g (452701) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @05:20PM (#38929689)

    The system has been in Quebec for several months now. They are using it mostly to find folks who haven't paid their drivers registration. They say they will not use it to find folks with outstanding tickets. The traffic divisions get all the big bucks. It's a real cash cow for the government. It was all over the news here though so there was nothing to really uncover. You can see the equipment and every once in a while I see a provincial car cruising slowly along the shoulder of the road with an array of equipment bolted to the roof scanning. Over here as far as I know though it's not used by local police yet.

    cheers

    • by hipp5 (1635263)
      And Nova Scotia (since maybe last summer or the one before).
    • by legojenn (462946)

      I think I saw a Gatineau cop with cameras on the roof on Friday. I figure that it was an ANPR system, but thought was weird that the cameras appear to be pointed perpendicular to the road, rather than targetted at licence plates. go figger

  • I thought ANPR was a pretty normal thing to equip a police car with nowadays. Not standard, by any means, but not something really out of the ordinary.

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      ANPR is pretty new in most of Canada, the provincal police in Quebec have it or most of them do. The OPP in Ontario will see it in 2020 or 2050 as they still don't have digital terminals in most of their cars, they're still doing stuff by hand and calling dispatch when they do a check. Peel regional police(near Toronto--richest municipality in Ontario, will probably see it if they want it if they don't already have it). But I can't figure out what's secret. The RCMP will get it no question they're the "

  • Hmph. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ColaMan (37550) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @05:24PM (#38929717) Homepage Journal

    According to the vendors, thousands of plates can be read hourly with 95-98 percent accuracy.

    Just a little grumble....
    Two thousand an hour at 95-98 percent accuracy gives 40 to 100 wrongly-read plates.

    Just like dictation software, where they say "99% accurate!" - a hundred words is pretty easy to clock up and then you seem to be forever correcting it.

    • by Imrik (148191)

      But then only a small number of those wrongly-read plates will read as stolen or whatever, and those will be easy to identify when the police look at the actual plate.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      "Two thousand an hour at 95-98 percent accuracy gives 40 to 100 wrongly-read plates."

      Whose status can be confirmed by other means if the vehicle is pulled over.

      Now try the same thing with the "Mark 1 human eyeball" then compare error rates.

    • by Nidi62 (1525137)

      According to the vendors, thousands of plates can be read hourly with 95-98 percent accuracy.

      Just a little grumble.... Two thousand an hour at 95-98 percent accuracy gives 40 to 100 wrongly-read plates.

      Just like dictation software, where they say "99% accurate!" - a hundred words is pretty easy to clock up and then you seem to be forever correcting it.

      It will also be easy to tell when they see the VW Bug you're driving isn't the stolen GMC Denali that matches the plates the system erroneously reported you as having. These kinds of false positives really aren't that big a deal. The cops aren't going to jump out guns blazing or taze the crap out of you just because the automatic plate reader flagged your car as possibly stolen.

      • Re:Hmph. (Score:5, Informative)

        by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @06:53PM (#38930229)

        The cops aren't going to jump out guns blazing or taze the crap out of you just because the automatic plate reader flagged your car as possibly stolen.

        Just like they would never pull someone over and end up tazing the crap out of them because their license plate frame was crooked.

        Oh... well, er... [abc4.com]

      • by ColaMan (37550)

        I'm not grumping about the system as such, just the vendor's claims.

        "95% accuracy" sucks when you're scanning "thousands per hour" as you have to deal with at least one or two incorrect plates a minute. If "deal with" in this case means "officer isn't hassled by a beeping machine" it's ok.

        I just hate the description of high throughput systems with a "xx%!" accuracy claim. Unless its up there in the 5 x 9's (like site availability), it's pitiful.

  • Your plates are already public information. These systems (the UK has had one for years) just read that information and flag up PlusBad. The argument is really about the likelihood of being caught.

    Of course, someone will post about how their sainted grandmother was gunned down by El Federales because Bankrobber Billy cloned her plates on his getaway car and it was picked up by an A?PR system. Bring it.

  • Are you trying to turn people into "ban it" luddites?

    Oh no, a machine can read a number plate! They'll know where my car was!

    Well, no-one cares. It's technology. It happens. It has good parts and bad parts. Stop panicking!

    • by PPH (736903) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @08:12PM (#38930699)

      Dear Mr/Mrs/Miss tbird81,

      Your vehicle has been identified on several occasions frequenting liquor stores. Statistically, we find that drivers who fit this behavior pattern tend to be riskier drivers and poor insurance risks. Consequently, we are raising your liability insurance rates.

      Signed, Your friendly insurance company.

  • This type of thing is the inevitable consequence of policing road traffic. But here's the thing about that: road traffic doesn't really need to be policed. The road rules exist to avoid crashes, but no one wants to crash. People try very hard to avoid crashing. If there were no police on the roads, the exact same people would try just as hard to avoid crashing.

    But roads are a police state, because you know The Right Way for everyone else to drive. Learn to mind your own business. And tell your neighbo

    • by swalve (1980968)
      "You've never driven in $[MY_STATE]!"
      • by Kohath (38547)

        Did you see a police officer prevent a car crash in your state? No, you didn't.

        • I've seen cops indirectly cause accidents.

          seach 'rubbernecking'. each time they pull someone over during rush hour, to enhance their profits^Hrevenue, they cause more problems than they 'solve'.

          we would all be better if cops stayed the hell off the roads. yes, I'm 100% serious. they cause more problems for citizens than they 'solve'.

    • by hipp5 (1635263)
      Except there's a whole segment of the population who thinks they are too skilled to ever crash...
      • Not to mention that 80% think they are above average drivers.

        • by Kohath (38547)

          Since the average driver doesn't crash his car every day, how does this matter? Even very bad drivers often go years without crashing.

      • by Kohath (38547)

        With all the police out there? How can that be? It's almost as if all that policing doesn't solve the problem...

    • by couchslug (175151) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @06:12PM (#38929997)

      "People try very hard to avoid crashing. If there were no police on the roads, the exact same people would try just as hard to avoid crashing."

      You assume people Give the Proverbial Fuck without being reminded. Maybe you do, in which case congrats on your virtue but don't expect it to scale.

      Drunks don't try hard to avoid crashing and crash often. Many drivers crash but refuse to carry insurance. Many drivers run expired license tags or swap them from other vehicles. Auto theft is common.

      • by Kohath (38547)

        You assume people Give the Proverbial Fuck without being reminded. Maybe you do, in which case congrats on your virtue but don't expect it to scale.

        Why can't you just learn to mind your own business? It's none of your business whether anyone else "Gives a Proverbial Fuck" or not. I don't care what "scales" and what doesn't. I want you and the police to stop minding my business. Leave me and everyone else alone. We're trying to live our lives. We don't need you to manage our choices for us. We don't need a government mom or an government overseer.

        Drunks don't try hard to avoid crashing and crash often.

        So let's start by repealing every other traffic law so the police can focus on the drunks.

        Many drivers crash but refuse to carry insurance.

        With all th

    • by Nidi62 (1525137)

      The road rules exist to avoid crashes, but no one wants to crash. People try very hard to avoid crashing. If there were no police on the roads, the exact same people would try just as hard to avoid crashing.

      One of the local radio stations in my (rather large) city once asked on it's morning for people to call in if they had ever intentionally wrecked into another car. Their phones were ringing off the hook. Whether to get insurance to fix their car, because you cut them off, or they're just having a really bad day, there is a not insignificant number of people out there who will intentionally crash into others.

      • by Kohath (38547)

        Even though it's against the law? And with all the police out there? How can that be? It's almost as if all that policing doesn't solve the problem...

    • by heypete (60671)

      A nice sentiment, but unrealistic.

      Having been in areas with reasonable (and non-excessive) police patrolling the roads and in areas (say Rome or Cairo) where obediance of common-sense traffic laws is essentially non-existent, I much prefer having the police around to keep things flowing smoothly.

      In Cairo, traffic laws technically exist but are widely disregarded (mostly because the police aren't anywhere near sufficient in number to enforce them after the revolution last year). Previously one-way streets no

      • by Kohath (38547)

        You are confusing the affects of cultural differences with the affects of policing. Bad drivers are bad drivers, regardless of police. Courtesy and manners don't come from police either. And police don't design roads to prevent gridlock, nor does the presence of police suddenly make a road built for 1000 cars per hour handle 5000 cars.

  • by dltaylor (7510) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @05:58PM (#38929907)

    Used to have a "hot hatchback", and a local PO mis-entered the license number into his system, just like the ALPR scan errors. The license plate/vehicle mismatch was obviously good grounds for a stop. Problem was that I couldn't see his active roof light bar above the low roof line and the locals don't have dash-mounted lights. All I could see when I parked at the grocery store was that some asshole had pulled up behind me (I'm in a diagonal slot in a shopping mall) and was shining his bright headlights in my mirror. I bounced out, carrying a black wallet; it wouldn't have been unheard-of for anyone other than an old white dude to end up dead.

    • by hipp5 (1635263)
      That sounds to me more like a failure of the police car design rather than a consequence of scan errors.
  • This has been going on for years in the states. Cameras in the cars spotting plates and running them against databases is common place. What the public (Slashdotters tend to be more educated than the public) seems to not know is that there are cameras at traffic lights that tie into the police departments and Department of Homeland Scrutiny. DHS knows where people are traveling to and from.

    In a discussion with a peer the other day, she said, "Is seems we are headed for '1984.' When do you think we will g
    • by w_dragon (1802458) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @07:16PM (#38930341)
      Stop the hyperbole. 1984 had cameras in every room in every house, and televisions broadcasting propaganda 24/7 that couldn't be turned off. Entrapment was both legal and encouraged to catch people breaking the law. If you want to put a soundproof room in your house to have a place you can guarantee you can't be snooped on no one is going to stop you. No one is going to arrest you for reading a history or politics book, even if it is about how great communism is. Even if you go grab a copy of the Anarchists Cookbook and get arrested for it no one is going to try to torture you into loving America while you're in prison. Anyone who thinks we're in 1984 hasn't read 1984.
      • "Anyone who thinks we're in 1984 hasn't read 1984."

        I think you're using 1984 as a model of what would actually happen, in the real world data is collected out of view of human beings. Does anyone here think the internet is not a spying machine, really? Google, all those websites you visit? Every time you do something on the net you're leaving a trail for others to determine who you are and what your interests are. There doesn't need to be an overt system in place. How is stuff like foxnews not similar

      • Even in 1984, "proles and animals are free." We are the 99%! So...what's with all the cameras?
      • by epyT-R (613989)

        and you're purposely ignoring the increasing number of similarities between today and 1984 for reasons I cannot fathom.. we're headed there, step by step. slow cooked.
        no one will arrest you for building that room because it's ineffective and cost prohibitive enough that most people don't do it. you might not be arrested for reading political books, but you WILL be put on a watch list (eg no fly) that supersedes due process. your example, if true, disproves the previous statement, ie that you CAN be arrest

      • by bjdevil66 (583941)
        Yes, saying we're THERE is a little over the top. However, anyone who suggests that because the exact conditions that existed in 1984 don't exist today that the fear is all "hyperbole" is ignoring the underlying point of 1984 altogether. They - the government and any private entities with a way to make money off the surveillance - ARE watching us more and more everyday, and the growth of it is out of control - with little resistance from the government to stop it.
  • Cylindrical cameras on top of traffic lights at all major intersections. Never heard an explanation, but they're at every new intersection built. Maybe they're for traffic monitoring, but once you have the image stream, anything's possible.
    • by w_dragon (1802458)
      Those probably aren't cameras, they're sensors that see the strobe lights on top of fire trucks so they can turn green for the fire truck.
      • by PPH (736903)

        The cameras are pretty easy to distinguish from traffic signal control receivers [wikipedia.org]. Some fixed cameras are used for vehicle detection in place of inductive loops. They detect vehicles on side streets and schedule a green light just like the old loop systems do. The cameras with pan and azimuth controls are usually only for monitoring conditions by human operators.

        Camera systems used for capturing license plates are usually equipped with strobes (sometimes IR) which work in conjunction with plates' retrorefle

    • by dr2chase (653338)

      Sure those aren't for detecting oncoming emergency vehicles? Check to see if the "camera" is strobing when an ambulance or fire truck is driving through. It switches the lights to a phase that clears the traffic and lets the emergency vehicle through more quickly.

  • This stuff can make the work of the police far more efficient leading to the recovery of more stolen cars and the catching of more criminals. If, as the article claims, only the criminals' licence plate gets recorded, there is no privacy invasion.

  • For example, there's a vid on youtube (Which I can't find right now) showing the new cruisers that LAPD is using. They have ALPR cameras and software installed.

    And I've spotted ALPR here in Providence, RI too. So it's widespread. So either mount a high gamma source near your registration plates, or better yet, paint a clear radium coating over the entire plate. :)
  • by Nemyst (1383049) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @07:42PM (#38930483) Homepage

    Has anybody been to Italy? It seems like every town of more than a hundred people has what they call a ZTL where foreigners cannot drive in. Those zones are bordered by barely legible signs with cameras attached to them. License plates are automatically scanned and fined with what appears to be no doublechecking.

    I know that the last time I went there, we were fined for entering the zone when we'd specifically been "cleared out" by the hotel we were staying at. Apparently they send the tickets no matter what and quietly accept payments even if you did no wrong.

    • Has anybody been to Italy? It seems like every town of more than a hundred people has what they call a ZTL where foreigners cannot drive in.

      I'll be damned... "zona traffic limitato", see for instance here [upperitaly.net] and here [slowtrav.com]. It's a trap designed to "generate revenue streams". Not just the tickets. From the latter website:

      It is permissible to drive to a hotel within the restricted areas or to a parking garage, but, it is imperative that the hotel or garage call your license plate number into the police. This will give you safe passage. Do not assume that this call will be made, ask them to make the call and then check later that it was made. To be safe, keep your hotel or garage receipt in the event that you do get a ticket, then you can challenge it.

      In addition to the call, entering a plate on the list to allow access will cost €1 euro instead of being free of charge.

  • Ha! I don't have a car!

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