NYC May Track Your Car's Activities for the Past 5 Years

By: John Honovich, Published on Aug 11, 2012

Microsoft is empowering New York City to track you car's activities for the past 5 years, allowing near instantanous recall and mapping of everywhere your car's license plate was captured for half a decade. While the hype surrounded the reported $30 to $40 million paid for this mega command system, this vehicle tracking feature may be one of the most powerful and controversial elements of the system.

Automatic Tracking

Buried in the nearly half hour NYC conference is what the city brags is the "brains of the system" that automatically pulls up anytime a plate has been scanned before in their system, plus calls up any record of that license plate (e.g., complaint, arrest report, parking summons). Watch NYC describe it themselves:

5 Years Allowed

NYC has granted itself the right to hold license plate recognition data for 5 years, as described in their Privacy Guidelines document, citing "the ongoing threat of terrorist attack".

It is not clear whether the city will hold still images of licenses plates and vehicles for that time period. According to their own rules, video itself is to be discarded after 30 days unless formalized, written approval is granted. If the city does not keep images of vehicles identified, it would have no means to verify whether the system falsely tagged a car (i.e., LPR is not perfect). On the other hand, if it does, the city would have a massive image repository going back years.

Limitations

Today, the city does not have anywhere close to a ubiquitous system in place. Capturing license plates requires specialized cameras and analysis software that is likely running on only a fraction of the City cameras, very few of which are outside of Manhattan. Of course, the city could (and likely will) put in more of these specialized cameras but it would take legions more to be truly comprehensive.

Foundations in Place

The combination of cameras, management system and broad latitude to monitor vehicles over vast time frames, provides a fairly unprecedented foundation for tracking the detailed actions of private citizens.

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