privacy in public places

Perry E. Metzger perry at
Thu Aug 28 12:39:16 EDT 2008

There has been a lot of talk on the list recently about the privacy
issues associated with various toll and fare collecting systems, but
others have been pointing out, correctly I think, that this matters
less and less because of other technological developments.

New York City recently announced plans to use license plate OCR to
produce and keep records of every car entering and leaving the city
and to keep those records for years. Very little attention was paid to
this, but I think it is the mark of things to come.

Although the huge infestations of video cameras in our cities have had
almost no impact on crime, once they are combined with sufficiently
potent image recognition software, it will become possible to track
people's movements and keep records of those movements essentially
forever. It also seems to me that almost anything that can be done
will in fact happen in the current "opposing the wish lists of the
police is the same as being in favor of terrorism" environment.

Given this, I think the time for focusing on the privacy implications
of payment transponders and fare cars is over. Not carrying a cell
phone will not help you avoid tracking when your environment is
saturated with cameras. Digital cash toll collection systems will not
avoid records being kept of your car's movements when cameras are
reading and recording license plates anyway.

Unfortunately, I don't see anything technological that people can
reasonably do here to provide more privacy, at least short of everyone
going everywhere on foot while wearing a burqa and periodically
attempting to confuse the cameras. The solutions, if any exist at all,
appear to be non-technical.

Perry E. Metzger		perry at

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