Civil Liberties

That Time the Pennsylvania State Police Disguised a Spymobile as a Google Street View Car

But didn't disguise it very well


It's creepy enough that the cops are using license plate readers to track people's movements. If they're camouflaging those readers as Google Street View vehicles, that's creepier still. Autoblog reports:

I've got my eye on you!

On May 11, Matt Blaze walked by an odd vehicle that had suspicious-looking Google Maps stickers. Plus the vehicle was registered to the City of Philadelphia and had a Pennsylvania State Police placard in the window. It was also fitted with license plate readers—the controversial technology used by law enforcement to automatically record and track thousands of vehicle movements. These movements are then stored in police databanks, with very few protocols for who can access those files.

Anyone else may have missed this oddity, but Blaze just happens to be an associate professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania. He tweeted a picture of the vehicle, which exposed a surveillance scheme that would make any modern city dweller queasy….

Pennsylvania State Police tweeted back that the vehicle wasn't one of theirs, despite the markings and registration. A trooper with PA police also told Gizmodo it wasn't theirs. But Pennsylvania State Police admitted by late afternoon Thursday that the mystery SUV was indeed part of their fleet…

On the plus side, it was a pretty clumsy camouflage job. The police, for their part, have declared that "the placing of any particular decal on the vehicle was not approved through any chain of command."