News

Electronic eyes along Portola Valley roads?

The Sheriff's Office wants license plate cameras, and the council wants to hear from the public about this.

Portola Valley residents are soon to confront a tradeoff: continuing privacy in their driving habits or giving up some measure of that privacy in the interest of combating crime.

The Town Council plans to hold public forums early in 2015 to discuss costs and benefits and seek opinions on round-the-clock police surveillance of the license plates of all vehicles passing through town.

The San Mateo County Sheriff's Office is seeking permission from the council to set up two or three permanent license-plate-reading cameras in strategic roadside locations to improve the odds of identifying the vehicles of thieves, burglars and other miscreants.

The cameras would capture the comings and goings of everybody, transmitting the data to a regional police intelligence center, where it could be stored for up to a year in a database used for criminal investigations.

On Oct. 22, the council heard a presentation from the director of the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC) on the uses of license plate data and the procedures established to protect it from unauthorized access.

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Access to the data would be restricted to law enforcement personnel who agree to abide by NCRIC privacy policies set by the state attorney general and the federal Department of Justice, NCRIC Director Mike Sena told the council. Users, including federal agents, must have a specific purpose for examining the data, he added.

Is it safe?

Skepticism over the safety of the camera data came from councilmen Craig Hughes and John Richards. The possibility exists that someone could sue for and obtain the data, exposing the driving patterns of residents, Mr. Hughes said.

Referring to a recent lawsuit in Southern California by the American Civil Liberties Union over access to license plate photos taken from patrol cars, Mr. Hughes noted that the ruling specifically classified data from mobile cameras as protected from disclosure in that it is evidence gathered in a police investigation.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department argued that the term "investigation" covers an officer reacting to a license plate camera inside a patrol car that detects a suspect plate. Such data qualifies for nondisclosure, the department said. The judge concluded that the public interest weighed against disclosure.

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But what about fixed, always-on cameras that gather data on all passing vehicles, including vehicles not under suspicion? Would that situation constitute an "investigation"? If not, is that data a public record? The question has not been addressed in court, Mr. Hughes said.

Asked to comment, Town Attorney Leigh Prince said that an argument could be made that such data is a public record.

Mr. Richards called the cameras "shiny new tools" that people want to use. "It's one of those, 'If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail' kind of thing," he said.

He pointed to the "phenomenal explosion" of data from many sources, and its potential as a chink in the armor of civil liberties. "It may not be a major chink, but it's a chink, and I'm certainly worried about it," he said.

The cameras are "very valuable tools," Lt. Tim Reid of the Sheriff's Office said when asked to comment. Without cameras, unless deputies are on the scene, "we've got nothing," he said.

A compromise, Mr. Hughes said, might lie in how long NCRIC keeps data about vehicles of no interest to police. If data about suspect vehicles -- a tiny fraction of the total -- could be stored and the rest deleted after, say, two weeks, "it might not be a bad idea," Mr. Hughes said.

A year of storage gives reluctant victims and witnesses time to open up to investigators, Mr. Sena said. And a plate may be tied to other crimes, including future crimes. "We're really trying to push standardization," he said.

Councilman Jeff Aalfs acknowledged "a little" concern about privacy, but wondered if the council was concerned about the right issue. The town may have an implicit obligation to communities already using the cameras, to contribute to what he called a network effect.

If a suspect plate is detected in Redwood City and passes unnoticed through Portola Valley, is Portola Valley pulling its communal weight? "For the system to have a benefit, we ought to be on the same playing field as everybody else," Mr. Aalfs said.

The Sheriff's Office has contacted Woodside Town Hall on the question of license plate readers, Mayor Dave Burow told the Almanac. "Before they (do) anything, we should have them come and present to the council," he said.

Mayor Ann Wengert said that civil liberties should be a top priority, but that crime is an important issue in Portola Valley. "We all know that there's an economic disparity that's increasing," she said.

Asked in an interview to elaborate, Ms. Wengert said that a wealthy community can create incentives for would-be criminals. "Any time you have that kind of bifurcation in the economic situation of your residents in the whole place, that can certainly result in a targeted location," she said.

A few residents commented at the Oct. 22 meeting. Slawek Wojtowicz, who said he lived in Poland during the Cold War, compared the proposed surveillance to life under Communism and the dystopian society portrayed in the novel "1984" by George Orwell. "Do we want more of that?" he asked. "I don't."

In England, known for the ubiquity of surveillance cameras, "there's no place to hide," Mr. Wojtowicz said. "Do we really want to live in that kind of a society?"

Virginia Bacon asked Mr. Sena whether the public would know the locations of the cameras.

"Normally, we don't advertise where the cameras are," he replied.

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Electronic eyes along Portola Valley roads?

The Sheriff's Office wants license plate cameras, and the council wants to hear from the public about this.

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Sun, Nov 9, 2014, 11:19 pm

Portola Valley residents are soon to confront a tradeoff: continuing privacy in their driving habits or giving up some measure of that privacy in the interest of combating crime.

The Town Council plans to hold public forums early in 2015 to discuss costs and benefits and seek opinions on round-the-clock police surveillance of the license plates of all vehicles passing through town.

The San Mateo County Sheriff's Office is seeking permission from the council to set up two or three permanent license-plate-reading cameras in strategic roadside locations to improve the odds of identifying the vehicles of thieves, burglars and other miscreants.

The cameras would capture the comings and goings of everybody, transmitting the data to a regional police intelligence center, where it could be stored for up to a year in a database used for criminal investigations.

On Oct. 22, the council heard a presentation from the director of the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC) on the uses of license plate data and the procedures established to protect it from unauthorized access.

Access to the data would be restricted to law enforcement personnel who agree to abide by NCRIC privacy policies set by the state attorney general and the federal Department of Justice, NCRIC Director Mike Sena told the council. Users, including federal agents, must have a specific purpose for examining the data, he added.

Is it safe?

Skepticism over the safety of the camera data came from councilmen Craig Hughes and John Richards. The possibility exists that someone could sue for and obtain the data, exposing the driving patterns of residents, Mr. Hughes said.

Referring to a recent lawsuit in Southern California by the American Civil Liberties Union over access to license plate photos taken from patrol cars, Mr. Hughes noted that the ruling specifically classified data from mobile cameras as protected from disclosure in that it is evidence gathered in a police investigation.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department argued that the term "investigation" covers an officer reacting to a license plate camera inside a patrol car that detects a suspect plate. Such data qualifies for nondisclosure, the department said. The judge concluded that the public interest weighed against disclosure.

But what about fixed, always-on cameras that gather data on all passing vehicles, including vehicles not under suspicion? Would that situation constitute an "investigation"? If not, is that data a public record? The question has not been addressed in court, Mr. Hughes said.

Asked to comment, Town Attorney Leigh Prince said that an argument could be made that such data is a public record.

Mr. Richards called the cameras "shiny new tools" that people want to use. "It's one of those, 'If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail' kind of thing," he said.

He pointed to the "phenomenal explosion" of data from many sources, and its potential as a chink in the armor of civil liberties. "It may not be a major chink, but it's a chink, and I'm certainly worried about it," he said.

The cameras are "very valuable tools," Lt. Tim Reid of the Sheriff's Office said when asked to comment. Without cameras, unless deputies are on the scene, "we've got nothing," he said.

A compromise, Mr. Hughes said, might lie in how long NCRIC keeps data about vehicles of no interest to police. If data about suspect vehicles -- a tiny fraction of the total -- could be stored and the rest deleted after, say, two weeks, "it might not be a bad idea," Mr. Hughes said.

A year of storage gives reluctant victims and witnesses time to open up to investigators, Mr. Sena said. And a plate may be tied to other crimes, including future crimes. "We're really trying to push standardization," he said.

Councilman Jeff Aalfs acknowledged "a little" concern about privacy, but wondered if the council was concerned about the right issue. The town may have an implicit obligation to communities already using the cameras, to contribute to what he called a network effect.

If a suspect plate is detected in Redwood City and passes unnoticed through Portola Valley, is Portola Valley pulling its communal weight? "For the system to have a benefit, we ought to be on the same playing field as everybody else," Mr. Aalfs said.

The Sheriff's Office has contacted Woodside Town Hall on the question of license plate readers, Mayor Dave Burow told the Almanac. "Before they (do) anything, we should have them come and present to the council," he said.

Mayor Ann Wengert said that civil liberties should be a top priority, but that crime is an important issue in Portola Valley. "We all know that there's an economic disparity that's increasing," she said.

Asked in an interview to elaborate, Ms. Wengert said that a wealthy community can create incentives for would-be criminals. "Any time you have that kind of bifurcation in the economic situation of your residents in the whole place, that can certainly result in a targeted location," she said.

A few residents commented at the Oct. 22 meeting. Slawek Wojtowicz, who said he lived in Poland during the Cold War, compared the proposed surveillance to life under Communism and the dystopian society portrayed in the novel "1984" by George Orwell. "Do we want more of that?" he asked. "I don't."

In England, known for the ubiquity of surveillance cameras, "there's no place to hide," Mr. Wojtowicz said. "Do we really want to live in that kind of a society?"

Virginia Bacon asked Mr. Sena whether the public would know the locations of the cameras.

"Normally, we don't advertise where the cameras are," he replied.

Comments

Don't give up privacy for so-called security
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 10, 2014 at 2:31 pm
Don't give up privacy for so-called security, Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 10, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Don't do it. Even though there is some merit to the concept with a town like PV with finite ingress/egress points, the proposal has two gigantic problems:

1) The NCRIC does not have a general purge policy. The "1 year retention policy" would be a 'goal' not a commitment.

2) Keeping this kind of data on citizen movements for a year is far too long in the first place. 30-90 days would be more than enough for someone to report an issue and have officers look through the data. That which could become evidence can be flagged for longer retention while the average citizen's data would be purged quickly.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 10, 2014 at 3:22 pm
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on Nov 10, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Do you use FasTrak?

It keep track of every time you go through a toll booth.

Anybody complained about that?


Ruth W.
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Nov 10, 2014 at 4:29 pm
Ruth W., Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Nov 10, 2014 at 4:29 pm

We are a rural community without street lights and stop lights. We pride ourselves on our volunteer ethic and natural beauty. True there are several homes in our town that could attract burglars. Would keeping track of every license plate that enters the town really help with the detection of those crimes? Our country is moving toward a big brother mentality of recording citizen movements in the name of security. I suspect most of the town's most lavish homes have security in the form of alarms and cameras, or they have safes. It feels like too much data and invasion of privacy in a data overload world.


Ben Franklin
Portola Valley: other
on Nov 10, 2014 at 6:04 pm
Ben Franklin, Portola Valley: other
on Nov 10, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Perhaps we should apply for grants from Homeland Security for a couple armored vehicles equipped with tear gas canister launchers! Secure the Fatherland!

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

May God bless America.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 10, 2014 at 7:53 pm
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on Nov 10, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Yes and Ben Franklin signed his name.

He also did not go about in public wearing a mask to hide his identity.

A man of true courage.


Ben Franklin
Portola Valley: other
on Nov 11, 2014 at 8:50 am
Ben Franklin, Portola Valley: other
on Nov 11, 2014 at 8:50 am

Pete: Nice argumentum ad hominem. Way to deviate off topic.

Almost as fun as watching a guy insert himself into every issue for neighboring towns. Don't see a lot of folks doing that on Athertonian issues.

Oy vey, such courage!


Joe
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 11, 2014 at 9:41 am
Joe, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 11, 2014 at 9:41 am
SteveC
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 11, 2014 at 10:19 am
SteveC, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Nov 11, 2014 at 10:19 am

Amazing how childish people become in these posts. Especially when they can't even use their own name.


TrailRunner
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Nov 11, 2014 at 12:44 pm
TrailRunner, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Nov 11, 2014 at 12:44 pm

It may be of use for town residents to have references to the benefits/disadvantages to communities which have used this technology previously. While I do have concerns about potential mishandling of the data, say through a security breach of a database, the proliferation of inexpensive IP cameras at many homes may make this issue moot. Enabling a data-based decision based on previous communities success (e.g., perpetrator capture rate) or failures would be beneficial.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 11, 2014 at 1:37 pm
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on Nov 11, 2014 at 1:37 pm

"Police-enforced ANPR in the UK
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Closed-circuit television cameras such as these can be used to take the images scanned by automatic number plate recognition systems
The UK has an extensive automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) CCTV network. Police and security services use it to track UK vehicle movements in real time. The resulting data are stored for 2 years in the National ANPR Data Centre to be analyzed for intelligence and to be used as evidence."


Ben Franklin
Portola Valley: other
on Nov 11, 2014 at 1:41 pm
Ben Franklin, Portola Valley: other
on Nov 11, 2014 at 1:41 pm

@trailrunner: I do not see any posted evidence for SMC, but there are numerous example online.

In Virginia, triple the error rate percentage to successes - "The license plate readers demonstrated a high error rate. Four ALPR vehicles used in Fairfax County over the course of five nights in February 2009 scanned 69,281 vehicles. The camera database produced twelve bogus hits and recovered four stolen vehicles, for a recovery rate of 0.6 percent and an error rate of 1.7 percent." Web Link

George Mason University crime study - "Especially with law enforcement technologies, efficiency is often mistakenly interpreted as effectiveness, which can perpetuate a false sense of security and a mythology that crime prevention or progress is occurring (Lum, 2010)."

"Further, especially in the case of license plate readers, efficiency may not be significantly connected to effectiveness. The most accurate license plate readers might be used by law enforcement officials in ways that have no specific or general deterrent, preventative, or detection effect whatsoever. Some have even argued that if LPRs can at least reactively catch a car thief, then it does not matter what its crime deterrent effect might be. At $20,000 to $25,000 per unit, such assertions seem, at best, naive and, at worst, very expensive."

"DO POLICE AGENCIES EVALUATE THEIR LPR USE?
It is uncommon for police agencies to conduct outcome evaluations of their operations using rigorous evaluation methods. The same is even truer of police technologies like LPR. Lum, Koper and Telep (ONLINE FIRST, 201 0), in their Matrix on policing evaluations show no evaluations or police technology with respect to crime outcomes prior to the PERF and GMU studies. Most agencies only evaluate the process of tactics or the efficiency of technologies, concluding "success" if an arrest is made or if the technology works faster.
Of the 35 agencies that use LPR, only five (four large and one small) conducted any type of assessment of LPR use, and none conducted impact evaluations."


@trailrunner: Note that other studies have shown the majority of hits are for expired registrations. A very expensive way (in dollars and loss of privacy/police state) to do the job DMV eventually gets done anyway.

Static LPR's just to collect everyone's movement, everyday, just in case there is a crime somewhere, someday?

Absurd. Maybe Police States such as China, North Korea or Saudi Arabia, one supposes.

@trailrunner: "potential mishandling of the data, say through a security breach of a database" Do not discount misuse of data without a security breach. It happens far too frequently.



Max
Portola Valley: Ladera
on Nov 12, 2014 at 1:00 pm
Max, Portola Valley: Ladera
on Nov 12, 2014 at 1:00 pm

I'm opposed to the increasing intrusions on our privacy. There is no sure way of ensuring the information gathered would remain private. To compare this type of surveillance to FasTrak is specious. FasTrak is an option because a driver can choose to buy it or not; constant camera surveillance is not the driver's option.


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