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Parking Garage Car Detector Sparks Privacy Panic

Illustration for article titled Parking Garage Car Detector Sparks Privacy Panic

Searching for your lost car in the mall parking lot ranks high on the list of modern hells. But a new system, built from a mesh of networked cameras, tracks the vehicles of confused shoppers. Super convenience or ORWELLIAN NIGHTMARE?


The surveillance system, deployed at shopping center Santa Monica Place, records your car's license plate, retrieving its garage slot from a stored video database should you forget where you parked it. Then, simply follow map directions to your ride. Which sounds like it would prevent a lot of tantrums and pains-in-asses! But of course, the LA Times reports, there are privacy concerns.

Since the mall records the footage, they own the footage. Which is where the hypothetical fascist 1984 Big Brother hair-pulling begins. "If I had an ex-boyfriend who I didn't want to find me, that could be a concern," frets one worried shopper. Yes, except, if your boyfriend knows your license plate number, he presumably knows where you live as well—which should be more of a concern than him accosting you in a highly public venue like a crowded Californian shopping mall. Unless he's just coming to the mall every day and punching in the number with the slight hope that you showed up that day. Which seems... less than plausible.


The normally extremely sane and highly insightful Federation of American Scientists are also pissed—""What should give people pause is that this technology is advancing upon us without anyone having chosen it," saysenior research analyst Steven Aftergood. "We have not decided as a society or as individuals that we want this convenience. It is being thrust upon us." Yes, except we did choose to go to the mall.

We should always be conscious (and cautious) of how our public presence is being tracked—of course. But defaulting to worst case scenarios is an exercise in scaremongering. The notion that Santa Monica Place is going to do something nefarious with the knowledge of where you parked your car last Sunday is no more worrisome than the potential for Facebook to do something with every photo, correspondance, and personal detail it possesses from the past five years of my life. Malls—like many other places outside our homes—are blanketed in security cameras anyway. With that given, they might as well be helping us find our cars at the end of a day of horrible shopping.

"If I was somebody famous and worried about my personal security, I would be concerned," explains another shopper, while looking for her car. "Since I'm basically nobody, I'm not too concerned."

Pretty much.

[LAT via Engadget]

Photo by midexies


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Seems like a non-issue unless one of the following situations comes into play:

1) Said boyfriend, individual, corporation, or investigator can inquire parking information of a particular car or all cars. For example visitation trends or history.

2) The parking garage can link plate numbers with personal information or vehicle registration. Or the camera can automatically ticket you for an out-of-date sticker.

3) Plate information of an entering/exiting/parked vehicle can be reported or flagged to 3rd party systems, including police, FBI and private investigators.

Overall, it's probably(hopefully) a closed system with a limited history and limited inquiry abilities. In an Orwellian scenario, an investigator would simply type in "John Smith," to the SkyNet database. Computers would link together and it would report back that John Smith's car entered Santa Monica Place at 4:15PM and is currently parked on the 3rd floor in spot #354. All done without any court order or human intervention.