Philadelphia Police Caught Disguising Spy Van as Google Streetview Vehicle – Google May Sue Over Logo Use

Posted by at 11:23 am on May 16, 2016

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The Philadelphia police department has been caught disguising a van equipped with sophisticated surveillance technology as a Google Streetview van, reports Motherboard. Instead of the regular cameras fitted to a Google Streetview vehicle, the surveillance vehicle was fitted with ALPR gear that uses infrared cameras to identify and process multiple license plates simultaneously, and almost instantaneously. When contacted about the van, the department disavowed the method that had been used to disguise the vehicle, stating that it had not been formally authorized by senior management, and an internal investigation has been initiated.

“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,” reads an emailed statement from the department. “With that being said, once this was brought to our attention, it was ordered that the decals be removed immediately.”

Google has since confirmed that it is making its own enquiries into the unauthorized use of its company markings, though said that it may have more to say on the matter in the future. “Frankly, what I don’t get is why they felt a need to hide something like this,” an expert in ALPR technology told Motherboard. “It certainly makes one question the motive for doing so.”

ALPR technology uses infrared cameras to find plate numbers and letters using the differential between the characters and the plate surround using optical character recognition. It can be used for intercepting vehicles involved in drug trafficking, collecting unpaid taxes, AMBER alert missions and can aid in the recovery of stolen vehicles. Even more troubling than the department’s use of deception and trademark theft s that there was apparently no motivation whatsoever for the mass-scanning of license plates, which is likely to draw the scrutiny of privacy and civil-liberties groups.

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