"The Philadelphia Police Department admitted today that a mysterious unmarked license plate surveillance truck disguised as a Google Maps vehicle... is its own," Philadelphia-based reporter Dustin Slaughter writes at Vice Media's Motherboard news site.
Motherboard posted this statement from Philadelphia police in response to its inquiry: “We have been informed that this unmarked vehicle belongs to the police department; however, the placing of any particular decal on the vehicle was not approved through any chain of command. With that being said, once this was brought to our attention, it was ordered that the decals be removed immediately." Plus an "inquiry" is in the works.
Google told Motherboard that the company "is investigating the unauthorized use of its Google Maps logo" and may have more to say later. Motherboard said the van contained gear including "infrared cameras to find plate numbers and letters via temperature differentials between those characters and the surrounding background through optical character recognition,” which can sweep many license plates fast and log their location.
The cameras are able to read and process “several plates simultaneously” and “in a fraction of a second.” Such equipment can be used for "drug interdiction, collection of unpaid taxes and fees, Amber Alert missions, and recovering stolen cars. The question remains: why disguise the technology—and so poorly?"
“It’s certainly concerning if the city of Philadelphia is running mass surveillance and going out of its way to mislead people,” Dave Maass, researcher at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for digital privacy, told Motherboard.