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ACT How traffic cameras are monitoring more than just your driving

Discussion in 'Politics, Laws, Government & Insurance' started by Grendel, Jul 25, 2015.

  1. This from the Canberra times, but is relevant nationally.
    (How traffic cameras are monitoring more than just your driving)

    Every morning at around 2am a computer in the Winchester police headquarters in Belconnen whirs to life. It sets up a secure connection to the motor registry in Dickson where it begins downloading thousands of records containing the names, dates of birth, addresses, licence and registration details of every person who owns or drives a vehicle in the ACT.

    The motor registry data is then compared to the police's own list of outstanding warrants, stolen vehicles, wanted sex offenders or suspects in criminal investigations.

    Armed with a hard drive containing the combined dataset, specially equipped squad cars fitted with licence plate scanners hit the streets and start hunting for hits – pings against the data that could identify someone that might need to be taken off the road.

    Along Hindmarsh Drive and Athllon Drive in the city's south, fixed cameras are also watching.

    Welcome to the world of Automatic Number Plate Recognition, or ANPR, where sophisticated tools and software are making it easier than ever for police to track the movement of members of the community.

    Initially sold to the public as road safety measures, the systems are increasingly finding uses far beyond their initial design. And plans to dramatically increase the number of cameras on Canberra's and the nation's streets have some experts worried.

    While still relatively small in scale in the ACT, plate scanning is a booming industry globally. In the last decade police forces have been able to triple or quadruple their previous arrest rates for mostly road safety related offences thanks to introducing the technology. Some of the most extensive networks allow police to track vehicles in real time from one side of a city to the other with pinpoint accuracy.

    Cameras mounted on a vehicle or fixed to a pole or building can capture six or more images of licence plates every second, convert them into text using optical character recognition software, and check them against data stored in the system's memory.

    In Canberra the systems have been a huge success. In the first three months of operating the RAPID system (now known as ANPR) police picked up 469 unregistered or uninsured vehicles, 147 unlicensed drivers, 69 suspended drivers and 22 disqualified drivers.

    ACT registration stickers have become largely unnecessary too in the age of ANPR.

    On their own photos of number plates stored in secure servers would seem to represent few obvious privacy concerns. But it is when that data is paired with other databases the technology starts to raise concerns. Elsewhere, ANPR has been credited with helping to track terrorists, find and capture violent criminals and dramatically reduce the number of illegal vehicles on the roads. It has been wildly popular in a number of countries, particularly in Britain, where the unconstrained growth of closed circuit television camera networks has led to millions of licence plates captured and tracked every single day.

    In many cases, systems that were sold to local communities for relatively benign purposes such as parking security, toll roads or catching speeding drivers, have since been incorporated into the British police's vast surveillance network, and there are plans to do the same thing here.

    Board member of the Australian Privacy Foundation Roger Clarke, says the trend has been growing rapidly under the noses of the general public, and has already started in Canberra.

    "CrimTrac has been trying to co-ordinate state and territory police for quite some time to try and get mass surveillance in any state they can get into so they can then use that as a beachhead and say, 'well every other state uses it, why don't you?' that's how it started in the UK.

    "In Canberra the Greens and the government accepted the nonsense put to them by police (when point-to-point cameras were installed. [The government] wants to get a massive surveillance database just like the UK, the likes of which we've never had before."

    ACT Policing says no location data is attached to images from its mobile ANPR systems.

    "It is important to note no location information is stored, and the data is therefore not used for evidential or Intel gathering purposes," a spokesman said.

    But fixed cameras, be they private or otherwise, are a different story.

    The federal government certainly seems to think linking up camera networks is a good idea, promising before the last federal election to set up a voluntary registry of private CCTV cameras that law enforcement officers would be able to tap into, vastly expanding their own surveillance reach.

    The ACT has been an enthusiastic adopter of plate reader technology in Australia, first trialling it around the year 2000 at the time large networks were being set up around London and Northern Island to help police deal with the threat of Irish Republican Army bombings.

    Canberra currently has a small number of specific ANPR equipped cameras – 14 mounted in ANPR police vehicles and two point-to-point camera zones along Hindmarsh and Athllon drives, with another ANPR car on the way. It is also used on average speed cameras on the Hume Highway just beyond the ACT border.

    But the ACT government is currently considering a report recommending the installation of CCTV cameras placed every 1000 metres along most of the territory's major roads, starting with Northbourne Avenue, potentially within the next year.
    Roads where traffic monitoring cameras are being considered

    The report, prepared by AECOM for the ACT government in early 2013, found the ACT's current traffic management systems inadequate, and suggested a staged rollout of a sophisticated integrated traffic management system of 119 CCTV cameras, as well as variable speed signs and monitoring stations.

    School of Law assistant professor at the University of Canberra Bruce Arnold has been studying the growth of number plate scanning globally and says Canberrans should be concerned about the plans, even if cameras are not initially equipped to scan licence plates.

    "There are obvious privacy concerns, because potentially you're able to track everyone in the ACT who's using a car, in most cases a simple software upgrade at a later date is all this is required to add the capability," Mr Arnold says.

    "Once it's in place you are left with this fairly expensive network, and you have to justify why it's there, so people come along and say, 'for an extra $5 million we can add functionality, we will be able to catch child molesters or drug traffickers' and so it gets expanded and linked to other data."

    "There are votes in security so the temptation will be to integrate the data from this with other sources such as face recognition systems, from the sorts of cameras like we're already seeing in Garema Place and East Row. You could for example track the car I'm travelling in, and then using face recognition you could track me walking around in Garema Place."

    Evidence both locally and further afield suggests that where data collection systems have the potential to be used by police or other government agencies for surveillance, sooner or later they will be.

    In July 2014 police admitted they had been using data from the ACT's MyWay electronic bus tickets to monitor the movements of Canberrans. Since the MyWay system came into place in 2010 the Australian Federal Police have requested information on bus passengers 27 times, with 16 of those requests resulting in data being handed over.

    And members of the public might be surprised just how far the cameras that police are already accessing can reach. When two cars slammed into each other head-on in March 2013, killing an 84-year-old man in one of the vehicles, it was unclear from the scene exactly what happened and who was at fault. But a camera on a passing Action bus recorded the entire incident.

    After a lengthy public debate about privacy concerns ahead of the installation of point-to-point speed cameras and assurances that they would not be used for mass surveillance, a damning ACT Auditor-General's report released in March last year found that since they began operating in 2012, police had made 22 requests for images from the cameras, all of which were approved.

    Under ACT law, images captured by roadside cameras must be deleted within 14 days if they are not linked to an offence while those that might be are uploaded to a police database. But the auditor's report found that around a quarter of images uploaded to the database and subsequently dismissed were still being retained.

    A separate audit in 2010 by the Australian Information Commissioner of the ANPR system found ACT Policing's publicity campaigns had not discussed the system's ability to be used to track people of interest, and police were reluctant to publicise those additional functions too widely, for fear their effectiveness may be reduced.

    Looking further afield gives in insight into where privacy issues can arise.

    In 2011 in the United States a Northern Virginia man reported his wife missing, prompting police to enter her plate number into their system. The system detected her car at an apartment complex nearby and police were sent to investigate. When they arrived they found the car parked outside with a note on its windscreen that suggested she was in apartment 3C, and asking that they not tow away her vehicle. When they knocked on the door, the woman came out of the bedroom. They advised her to call her husband.

    But potentially even more concerning than law enforcement use is the rise of data aggregators harvesting and selling licence plate information to private investigators, debt collectors or anyone else willing to pay.

    Private company TLO has begun selling access to its database of more than a billion vehicle sightings in the US, allowing customers to request a report on a vehicle showing where it went, when and its most recently detected location.

    In July 2013 the American Civil Liberties Union sent 587 requests for information to police departments around the country asking how and why they use ANPR technology. The resulting report, "You are Being Tracked", found not only was police data leaking out and ending up in private databases (no such breach has been reported in the ACT), but a plethora of private businesses from parking garages to airports, toll roads and security firms were also recording and storing vast databases of licence plate data. One of the biggest users of this data is repossession agents wanting to track down debtors. TLO's website claims the company adds 50 million sightings to its database every month.

    "If not properly secured, license plate reader databases open the door to abusive tracking, enabling anyone with access to pry into the lives of his boss, his ex-wife, or his romantic, political, or workplace rivals," that report warned.

    While there have been no suggestions that the data is being used improperly in Canberra, a number of other businesses around the city have begun recording the details of their visitors, including the National Portrait Gallery, that scans the plates of every vehicle that enters its carpark.

    "It is standard technology used in many new car parks in shopping centres and other public spaces … The data is only used in relation to parking," a gallery spokeswoman said, but noted the information could be passed to the police in the event of an incident or accident.

    Cameras have also been going in along the Majura Parkway construction zone, and their success has encouraged the government to look at installing more, according to Justice Minister Shane Rattenbury.

    "The ability to see the road network and minimise congestion and maximise the efficiency of the network offers real opportunity for commuters to get a better run across the city … but unfettered access clearly is not an acceptable outcome," Mr Rattenbury said.

    "It is important that that data can be used, but that it be used in a way that is consistent with privacy principles. Those concerns (about mass surveillance) are fair enough, and this is not about having mass surveillance, I'd expect those principles to be applied across any further use of cameras."

    But looking at where its financial priorities lie provides an insight into how important the ACT government views surveillance technology.

    The strained 2013-14 budget included big hits to some areas including ACT Policing, which had about 10 per cent or $15 million slashed from its total annual allocation of $150 million over four years. At the same time the union was warning the cuts would result in up to 45 job losses, an extra $5m was found to expand the More Police Safer Roads initiative which included increasing the number of ANPR equipped cars to four.

    According to a police spokesman, there are now 14 ANPR equipped cars on the ACT's streets.

    The technology is already in use in a number of other states and territories, and there have been several attempts to link up these individual systems.

    To see where the ACT's embryonic deployment of the technology could lead to, the small land-locked county of Surrey in the Britain provides a useful case study.

    In 2001 Surrey Police introduced one van and four ANPR cameras, staffed by six officers. Using data on vehicles linked to terrorism or major crime, Surrey's ANPR intercept team rapidly increased their number of arrests to 100 per officer per year, four times the British national average. Additional funds to the program began to flow.

    By 2013 that number had grown to 168 cameras at 38 sites reporting 3400 positive hits a day for vehicles of interest. Last year Surrey Police also entered into a joint project with the University of Surrey to develop sophisticated convoy analysis software that allows officers to track not just an individual vehicle, but to identify any others who may have been following a similar route and could therefore have been travelling with them. Convoy analysis is already in limited use in both Britain and the United States.

    While the US and British experiences may sound paranoid or improbable in Australia, there is significant appetite to roll out systems on a similar scale here.

    In June 2008 CrimTrac began work on a scoping study for a nationally connected licence plate scanning network that would allow law enforcement, national security and road transport authorities to track vehicles across the entire country. While the study found implementing such a vast network would be expensive and faced potential technical and legislative difficulties, ahead of the last federal election the Coalition announced its intention to try again.

    In its policy to tackle crime, the now Abbott government pledged to commission an urgent scoping study for the rollout of a licence plate scanning network to be operated by CrimTrac for the approaches to airsides and waterfronts.

    "This will enable law enforcement and criminal intelligence agencies to identify people and organisations whose attendance at these locations may be unauthorised or suspicious," the policy document claimed.

    The document also extolled the virtues of Britain's vast network of CCTV cameras in solving murders and other crimes, and pledged an extra $50 million for local Australian communities to follow British neighbourhoods and install more cameras. According to a spokeswoman for Justice Minister Michael Keenan's office, nearly $20 million of that money had already been spent by the end of 2014.

    CrimTrac's CEO Doug Smith told a Senate estimates hearing in November 2013 that it would be relatively simple to set-up a national database of vehicles of interest that could be accessed by ANPR systems around the country, but said technology, privacy and other issues had been found to be a serious concern when considered in 2008.

    "Probably the best example you could use as an analogy is the one that is used in Britain, which is a single national system. It is a very extensive and intrusive system, and the board did not have the appetite at the time and did not approve that particular request," Mr Smith said.

    The Privacy Foundation's Roger Clarke remains skeptical.

    "This is now mature technology that has been around for a number of years and there is plenty of forward compatibility built into this system. It's quite ripe for function creep to occur because it's easily done, and for governments and police, it's easy to see the attraction."
    • Informative Informative x 7
  2. I can't see one single situation in that piece which should cause an honest citizen to be concerned...
    • Funny Funny x 5
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    • Agree Agree x 1
  3. Interesting read.

    I think the issue is that these cameras are likely to be used more and more and likely to be accepted by the general public along the lines of if you are not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear.

    The real challenge will be to build safeguards which prevent their intrusion into our legitimately private areas of life. This might (perhaps) be easier in nations like USA with it's Bill of Rights.
    • Agree Agree x 2
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  4. So you have no problem with someone knowing your every move. You never speed never break a road rule never not want someone to know where you are or why your there. It does not concern you that everything you do is scrutinised by someone who may not have the best intentions, or the fact that human nature always had a way of perverting something from its original purpose. You sir are very naive.
    • Agree Agree x 3
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  5. selling the information to "other" non state or federal agencies should be strictly forbidden.

    Why should private security / parking / or other such companies be allowed access to my information.

    I can see it now the new age of telemarketing take a photo of my car in a museum carpark, and suddenly I'm getting emails and phone calls about the next show on at my local art centre.

    Ensuring that any data collected is deleted after a certain time is also a necessity.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  6. we're all law-abiding criminals these days :)

    but law creep here is similar to the "hi-vis for everyone" argument... sure there is a technical possibility, but would it happen in the real world?
  7. Looks like that will be more difficult for these companies to do.....at least in Victoria
    The laws have been changed to prevent them acessing the registered owners' details.
    Private companies could only access your details under special circumstances, unless the government starts spamming us, then we have less to worry about.
    Crackdown On Private Carpark Operators | Premier of Victoria

  8. Not naive at all, just a law abiding citizen. Why would I be somewhere that I don't want someone to know I'm there? Privacy is in your own home: if you are in public you have no privacy! Besides do you really believe that governments and other agencies can't already obtain and use any information they want? That's naive...
    I'm always fascinated by people who's intention is to break the law defending the possible infringement of government on people with exactly the opposite intention.....
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  9. If I want other parties finding out that I masturbate to pornography at home, I'd give them a call. Otherwise, p**s off & stop snooping around in my business...
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  10. #10 Greggles, Jul 25, 2015
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2015
    oldcorollasoldcorollas I'd would really like to think that politicians and the like would always have the best interests of the majority the, "law abiding citizens" (read me into that group I would like to think) but without fail if there is an opportunity for someone to corrupt a system or use it for personal gain. See "anyone" one who wants to hold sway over someone else then yes it can easily happen in the real world. Possibly a little off topic but look at the drug kingpin escaping from the most secure jail in Mexico, through a well lit and ventilated tunnel with a motorbike on rails none the less to aid his escape. There are always going to be people who are corrupt or can be corrupted given the right circumstances. The information amassed under the guise of traffic control, looking for terrorists, anything that can be trumpeted as a benefit to the "law abiding citizen" or law and order in general, is truly astounding. Given that we are already tracked by our mobile phone and that every conversation on any telecommunications device is already listened to and every word we type online is read to ensure we are not subversive or planning a terror attack while showing photos of our ride. I know this may sound all conspiracy theory stuff but we applaud the police when the scan facebook looking for terror suspects, child molesters, sex offenders, or that fkucing yobbo who just has to brag about how he raced through an area or did his burnouts or whatever we see as not acceptable behavior. Just remember that while they are searching for those guys they are also picking up on what you and your family are talking about / posting online, and while it may not be illegal it may hold value to an ex, a boss looking for a reason to sack you or a family member, someone you inadvertently pssed off at some point that has the ability to get this information and turn up at your house and threaten you or your family. Just open your mind and think what you would do with some nasty piece of information if you had access to it on the person that you despise the most and you could use it to hurt them. Or less threatening but just as invasive marketing companies that want to get you to spend your last dollar on what they have to sell. I'm not a redneck, I have worked all my life from the age of 15, I have never broken any serious law, I do speed I have done things that many would probably never do but I don't see myself as a criminal. So the fact that this is being used to prevent serious crime and catch those that have committed serious crime is a good thing but I don't see the need for the level of scrutiny that we now have or a dramatic increase in it either. Why, because every time something comes along to make catching those that are doing wrong easier, someone corrupt finds a way for them to be harder to find. End of rant. Sorry I was wrong one more thing I just looked back at a post I did last night and lo and behold at the bottom it proudly shows that I posted it from a SAMSUNG mobile device. WTF why does anyone need to know how I'm posting stuff here, there is one small piece of monitoring that is totally unnecessary and an invasion of my privacy, will it stop me from being a member and using my phone to read and post here probably not because I'll just accept it was for my own good and leave it at that. Funny how easy it is isn't it?
  11. Oh I know that we are monitored beyond anything we could ever imagine and if you think you have privacy in your home then you really are deluded my friend. So you've never ridden or driven a car over the speed limit, never broken any law ever. Boy that halo must be getting very heavy.
  12. The problem here is that none of you commenting have ever lived through a regime that has complete control over you, monitoring your every move and slowly but surely eroding every freedom you ever had. I know I haven't, but my parents did and they escaped here to Australia. Governments never take everything away at once, at happens slowly over time - a little thing here, a little compramise there - until one morning you wake up having to collect your foodstamps for the week, donning your grey attire and singing praises to your glorious leader, may he live forever. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin - Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
    • Agree Agree x 7
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  13. #13 oldcorollas, Jul 25, 2015
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2015
    and who voted them in at the last election? :D
    apparently this is what "we" want... :(
    • Like Like x 1
  14. I won't disagree but to be honest what is being shown about in the original article is not the responsibility of one political party or leader it has been a succession of many that had lead to this point and will be a mix of many more in the coming years. Now we have career politicians rather than those who actually worked for a living and became politicians to advance the country for all not just the ones lining their pockets the most.
    • Agree Agree x 4
  15. A majority of the Australian population, by a strange mechanism called democracy...
    Of course I've exceeded the speed limit at times, and most recently had a mobile police car, equipped with a radar, remind me of the consequences of said action. But if more cameras and more policing gets the unlicensed, the unregistered, the uninsured and the people who think they can make up their own definition of the speed limits, off the road and makes the roads safer for the majority of riders and drivers and pedestrians, I'm happy to go with that.
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  16. I have no issues with that either, but i do have issue with fixed cameras the data collected and what is done with it, and why we just have to accept it, if we are doing nothing wrong. If the majority are doing nothing terribly wrong then why should we need to be monitored, most often the minority of people are doing the wrong why are the majority made to suffer the same restrictions and level of scrutiny and why are those who voice concern over these basic infringements of their life made to feel that they have something to hide or are in the wrong. i.e your original comment "I can't see one thing in that piece that should cause an honest person any concern" paraphrased.
  17. The problem is, like fishing for a particular species of fish, you have to be prepared for the eventuality of catching a lot that you weren't after. As long as they are thrown back and only the target species is kept, that is the best way to do it...
  18. The comfort you should have is that there is now not enough police resources to process and respond to the information they have already.....
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  19. I was more referring to the other erosions of "freedom" in the name of freedom that are occurring, rather than the cameras :)
  20. They're not the ones need to worry about (don't cause/affect any sort of majority), and more surveillance won't have much if any impact on the most common type of accident (rear enders).

    • Agree Agree x 1