Data privacy and security is top of mind for those in the connected mobility movement, and the use of technology to monitor human activity, intended and unintended, raises the issue of responsible stewardship of the information that is gathered. Law enforcement has been using technology to protect the public for years, and is now entering a new stage of vehicle surveillance that is causing some concern.
The tracking of vehicles electronically for the purposes of law enforcement is nothing new, as red-light cameras, license plate recognition and speed cameras are already in place. These devices have been limited in their use by old technology as well as a general lack of interest by authorities in expanding their application for wider purposes.
But recent advancements in data and image processing can do much more than simply record a point in time; predictive behavioral analytics can be used to more accurately determine what people are doing and estimate what people are likely to do – before they do it. The value of delivering customized connected services through the use of data analytics is well-known; McKinsey and Company released a study predicting that the incremental revenue generated by connected products and services will grow to more than $230 billion by 2020.
People want connectivity, and they’re willing to give up some of their privacy as a part of the transaction that (we are told) enhances the user experience. Social media and location based connected services regularly ask us for personal information and we readily hand it over, accepting the trade-offs as being somewhat benign. That attitude of acceptance could be strongly tested as new reports raise awareness of a secret data collection program in place since 2009.
Government officials have confirmed that the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have been building a massive database to track real-time movement of vehicles in the United States. The program collects and stores hundreds of millions of records about motorists, including time, direction and location, from cameras and sensors placed strategically on major highways. Many devices also record visual images of drivers and passengers, which are sometimes clear enough for investigators to confirm identities.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is not pleased about the program. “The broad thrust of the DEA is to spread its program broadly and catch data and travel patterns on a massive scale,” Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with ACLU, told the Guardian. “This could be a really amazing level of surveillance that we’ve not seen before in this country.”
Fundamentally, there is no crime in the tracking of license plates in a public place where you have no expectation of privacy. The concern here is when law enforcement, a matter handled by individual states, becomes federalized through the sophisticated, centralized processing and storage of consumer data that is gathered by the real time surveillance of citizens who have broken no law.
The database is not just used by the Feds. According to the Wall Street Journal story, there is a “wealth of information in the hands of local officials who can track vehicles in real time on major roadways,” which can help to facilitate the controversial practice of asset forfeiture. In such instances, cars, cash and other valuables can be seized from people without evidence of a crime being committed. What is most disturbing, according the report, is the fact that the database is becoming a resource for law enforcement agencies nationwide and is being used in a much broader manner than it was originally intended.
We see an interesting juxtaposition between this story, exposing how law enforcement is tracking your car in real time without your knowledge, and the effort by law enforcement officials to lobby Google to disable the Waze app feature where citizens are able to locate police. In a connected society where location-based devices are ubiquitous, are exceptions to be made for those in positions of power and influence, and why?
Consumer concerns over data sharing and privacy still need to be addressed by automakers, and the value of that transaction must be defined clearly, regardless of how intrusive the infrastructure becomes. Through self-regulation and proactivity, the auto industry can demonstrate its ability to provide better and more responsible stewardship of data than that of the bureaucracy. We wonder, however, if it’s now too late…
Source: U.S. Spies on Millions of Drivers – The Wall Street Journal