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Surveillance For Hire: Would You Take Money to Record Fellow Drivers?


One company collects plate scans of 40 percent of all US vehicles annually.

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If you could mount a camera on your car that simply scanned license plates as you drove — and earned you $200 to $400 each time it registered a stolen or repossessed car — would you do it?

w License plate readers on a civilian vehicle. (Image source: YouTube)

That's the gig several repo men have lined up across the country: selling location information they gather to companies like Texas-based Digital Recognition Network. The Fort Worth company typically adds 8,000 plate scans to their huge database from "spotters" like Manny Sousa.

BetaBoston reported that repossession companies like Sousa's New England Associates Inc. in Bridgewater, Mass., mount automatic readers to spotter cars that constantly take pictures of every ­license plate it passes while the drivers are working a repossession route.

“Honestly, we’ve found random apartment complexes and shopping ­plazas that are sweet spots” where the company can impound multiple vehicles, Sousa said. But these repossession companies are just one part of a vast network of digital positioning and tracking that spans the country; the growing database of snapshots that show where Americans were at specific times is prime information to be sold to the highest bidder - from private detectives to ­insurers and more.

BetaBoston reported:

While public debate about the license reading technology has centered on how police should use it, business has eagerly adopted the $10,000 to $17,000 scanners with remarkably few limits.

At least 10 repossession companies in Massachusetts say they mount the scanners on spotter cars or tow trucks, and Digital Recognition Network of Fort Worth, Texas, claims to collect plate scans of 40 percent of all US vehicles annually.

BetaBoston reported on the Digital Recognition Network's process (Image via DRN). BetaBoston reported on the Digital Recognition Network's process. (Image via DRN)

Privacy advocates brace against this kind of broad scan-and-store data gathering when police use it, let alone private companies; now business using the scanning technology may face additional hurdles from legislators trying to ban commercial scanning altogether.

A Boston legislative committee held a hearing on a bill Wednesday that would ban most uses of license plate readers, including the vehicle repossession business, making exceptions only for law enforcement, toll collection, and parking regulation.

According to Motorola, one company that sells the Automated License Plate Recognition Systems, police in Long Beach, Calif., used two ALPR-equipped vehicles to search for parking violators. In just 30 days, they located and impounded more than 300 vehicles – collecting over $200,000 in delinquent fines and impound fees. And when the department installed four ALPR systems, they identified 929 lost or stolen license plates, recovered 275 stolen vehicles and made 50 arrests in six months.

So what do you think? Would you participate in this network of information gathering if it was legal in your state?

(H/T: BetaBoston)

Follow Elizabeth Kreft (@elizabethakreft) on Twitter

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