North State DA’s 1984….in 2015.

Once again, Ladies and Gents, MC is proud to have a guest poster in North State DA:

Traffic Stop 2015

So I was messing around with an app on my phone today, and discovered a fascinating little function called “Google Goggles.” Goggles takes pictures of common items and searches the web for information about the item. It seems innocuous enough- take a picture of a bottle of beer on the shelf at Safeway, and your device gives you a link to the brewery, a review of the beer, and uses the GPS chip in the phone to show you a nearby liquor store that has it on sale. Neat! But what is it actually doing? And does that have any application in the public safety context?

You BET it does. In a HUGE way. And the ramifications are immense. More importantly, there is a revolution coming in the ability to accumulate and process data, and the law is way, WAY behind in coping with it. Imagine the following scenario:

1 Jun 2015, 1530 hours. Motorcop on traffic detail in Town. MC sees a beat-up hoopdie ’92 Dodge Ram 1500 coming towards him, and points his LIDAR unit at the Dodge. Limit is 35, Ram is doing 38. The law gives a few miles over for calibration error, and MC has determined that anything below 42 is totally safe on this bright June afternoon when school is out. So the Ram is in the clear.

But this is 2015, and MC has a new LIDAR unit that is integrated with his new digital radio and its 4G network. This unit takes a picture of the Ram as its coming closer, and automatically picks up the plate, scans the numbers, and checks them with DMV. Oops. Ram was last registered 6 Oct 2012.

An electronic voice comes through the earpiece in MC’s helmet and delivers the bad news about the driver (this being 2015, DMV has FINALLY got around to tracking the temporary registration tags that DMV agents used to pass out like candy and never tracked back in 2010, so there is NO WAY the Ram is current.) MC has PC, and away we go.

Before MC even radios in to dispatch, the smartphone-like portable network unit device on his belt that is wirelessly connected to the LIDAR has already received all of the Ram’s registration information, and its also got the data on the Ram’s owner. Her name is Daria Dirtball, 22. Dirtball is currently on formal drug probation for a felony meth possession charge, and her license is suspended for a DUI when she was 19 (she never took the class and paid the fines.)

Of course, the driver might not be Dirtball, but MC has probable cause from the registration, so its just trivia- for now.

MC hits the lights and the Ram pulls over. So far, its what the media likes to call a “routine traffic stop.” MC approaches the window and leans over to see the driver. “Do you know why I stopped you, ma’am?”

MC is wearing shades. Hey, its June, its California. But what the driver doesn’t notice is the tiny digital video camera in the glasses:

Before the driver even finished telling MC “No, officer, I’m suspended for DUI,” the camera took a picture of her face and sent it to the device. The picture is broken down into a numerical “signature” and sent to DMV. The signature comes back to Dirtball. Bingo. Searchable for dope and driving on a suspended, a misdemeanor.

“I stopped you because your vehicle hasn’t been registered for a while.”

“Yeah, I am a few months late.”

“Actually, DMV says you are several YEARS late. Please step out of the car.” Arrest (on the suspended license), search, find a handful of meth baggies and a scale in a backpack that has a credit card bill belonging to Dirtball, and off to jail pending sentencing in the formal drug probation and a new felony dope sales charge.

OK, pretty “routine” stop. The tech didn’t add much. But let’s throw in a new variable: Dirtball has a passenger. While MC is talking to Dirtball, his magic shades take a picture of her passenger. DMV check shows nothing. But the photo “signature” is run through a federal database, and it comes back to Ignacio Illicito. Seems Illicito was stopped by ICE agents and sent home to Mexico when he tried to skip the border 3 years ago, and a mugshot was taken. Now Illicito is wanted on a felony warrant out of Imperial County for his role in the kidnapping of a Mexican informer last month.

MC’s day just got a lot busier. Dispatch has already requested backup, and two units are on the way to help take Illicito into custody. And it all happened in under 90 seconds from the time MC got off his bike.

If this traffic stop happened in 2010, Illicito would have told MC that his name was Pedro Guerrero. MC would point out that “Pedro” did not look like a pro ball player, and “Pedro” would tell him that it’s a common name where he’s from. Dirtball would claim the backpack, and, with no further reason to detain Illicito, MC would let him on his merry way, warrant and all.

This technology has applications in the EMS world, too. Imagine responding to a call of a passed out bum on a sidewalk. In 2015, you take a quick snapshot of Ben Bum’s face, and you get an ID, along with a warning that his disgusting bum-body has hep C, tuberculosis, and HIV swimming around in it. And he’s diabetic, and allergic to penicillin. This new tech just saved at least one life, in that you can now properly treat Bum without killing him, but it might also save the life of the responders and ER staff that can prepare for this self-propelled bio weapons lab.

The remarkable thing about this technology is not that it’s “just around the corner”: its already here. This isn’t the millionth Popular Mechanics article claiming that we will all be flying hovercars by next year. The only enabling leap that needs to be taken before this jumps from the theoretical to the operational is some software and a few servers at DMV and the Department of Homeland Security. And maybe a link to booking photo software at county jails and CDCR.

DMV already operates CALPHOTO, a database with a picture of every driver in California. The pictures are not super high resolution, but they are definitely good enough to narrow down the likely candidates to a few dozen people. Throw in environment data, like location or the vehicle being driven, and the software should be able to peg the face almost every time. And it will only get better as the years go by.

But now we have the legal problem. Its well settled that a driver has virtually no expectation of privacy in regards to identity. Anonymity in the physical world is basically a myth. Since you can’t get anywhere in most of the country without driving, and since you can’t drive without a license, you will be vulnerable to identification by law enforcement at least several times a day (assuming probable cause to stop, which any observant officer can develop if he follows a driver long enough.) This has been the state of affairs for about half a century. What this technology does is extend this identification to passengers, or even people walking on the street. Probable cause to stop or detain is no longer a predicate for identification.

In the Kyllo decision, the US Supreme Court relied heavily on the state of technology to say that thermal imaging of a residence violates the reasonable expectation of privacy. If that’s the basis, the court was right (and is still right.) Thermal imagers are not restricted to the military or law enforcement. You can actually rent one- just Google “thermal imaging camera rental.” But they are still relatively expensive and require a certain amount of expertise to operate. Since you do not expect that any schmoe might be peeking through your walls with a thermal camera, you reasonably expect that no one is watching you walk around naked in your bedroom.

“Visual search,” on the other hand, is already available. All you need is an iPhone or an Android-based smartphone. For $150 (plus a 2 year commitment) you can get a device that is currently capable of scanning products and searching a database for the product’s identity. Faces are not dramatically different or more difficult. Google and Apple have not implemented this feature, but its only a matter of time before a phone can scan the face of somebody at a club and link you immediately to their Facebook page. They can do it TODAY. They probably have not because of concerns about legality and privacy.

When this technology hits the courts, there will be chaos. Defense attorneys will squeal that their clients’ identities should be protected from the tyranny of easy identification, and cops will try to scan everybody they meet. The courts will try to strike a balance, and the politicians will no doubt author nonsensical legislation that restricts or expands the way it can be used in response to perceived or actual public outrage. Either way, its going to be a very interesting next couple of years.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Snark is encouraged. Being a prat is not.

15 thoughts on “North State DA’s 1984….in 2015.

  1. The only reason I see this not happening is idiot software developers (and I say that as a computer engineer.) You'll be lucky to find out whose vehicle that is with your LIDAR gun around dinnertime… if you pointed it at them just before lunch. That's if the thing manages to establish a network connection to the Identification XP Solution 200 Database Synergizer in the first place instead of crashing or throwing you a ridiculous error message.

  2. Oh please!!! DMV is so far behind in the tech times… I'm still waiting for them to put the model, color of veh and the darn Tag number they actually issued to be on the vehicle In their database!

  3. I still want my flying car. Or at least a hoverboard, for crying out loud.

  4. Ok, you totally lost me after you posted the link for the way cool camcorder spy sunglasses! I want a pair of those!

  5. ummm…that is crazy, sorry but i can't say that impresses me to much,
    i don't like technology…
    twas an interesting read anyway 🙂

    take care


  6. Only problem I see with this is that as much as I'd love to be made aware of the nasty diseases someone has before I go hands-on (gloves or not), it violates HIPAA. For that information to be made available like in this scenario, some part of HIPAA would have to be altered. You also have to realize that many people do not and would not update their information.

  7. As someone who works in the software field, I know for a fact that the technological parts for the above scenario already exist – even if the 4th Amendment will create major issues in implementing such a totalitarian system.

    Automated face recognition and matching is a pretty active area of research in computer science, and I know that a few police departments already have already deployed roof-mounted ALPR (Automated License Plate Reader) units to scan and run every single license place within line of sight.

  8. "The only enabling leap that needs to be taken before this jumps from the theoretical to the operational is some software and a few servers at DMV and the Department of Homeland Security. And maybe a link to booking photo software at county jails and CDCR."

    That's a bit like saying that we have all the technology needed to put a base on Mars, we just need to pick a crew and build a couple of spaceships. The theory is the easy part. I have to agree with W1KAS, it's a cool idea, but I expect something like it will be well developed in the private sector before the government gets it functional.

    It's still totally cool, though. I wonder if it would be a viable alternative to some of the current TSA requirements. (Take off half your clothes, now we're going to use x-ray vision on the rest, oh, and please check your dignity at the counter…)

  9. W1KAS- while I understand your frustration, bear in mind that Google has digitized and cross-referenced millions of products to make Goggles work. The technology is there- a lack of will (or money, which is always the prime factor) may be lacking, the reality is there.

    Dispatcher- DMV is a mess, but that CALPHOTO database has got federal and state LE juices flowing- and there has to be thousands of contractors offering a thousand different ways to leverage it. CALPHOTO, properly utilized, is probably one of the most valuable databases on Earth.

    Kyle- industrial physics and materials science (effectively) stopped evolving several decades ago. Safe vehicles are heavy. Energy storage sucks. Cars are an unfortunate reality.

    Goddess: I gave you the link! I live to serve, but I can only guide you so far . . .

    Shirelle: If you are a law-abiding citizen, this technology won't directly effect you much- unless you consider that somewhere between 5 and 10 % (or MUCH more, depending on the county) of the vehicles you are driving near are driven by people that are wanted or have suspended licences. Someone driving near you with a license suspended for DUI (14601.2) is FAR more likely to kill you and the people in your car than an average driver. Tech like this will make it significantly harder for these irresponsible people to continue driving.

    Firelady: HIPAA is EXACTLY the kind of overreaching law I was talking about. Patient privacy is critically important to our notion of freedom. But the bureaucratic hurdles it creates mean that first responders are not privy to critical facts that could save their lives, and even the lives of their patients.

    All: I'm glad you liked the post enough to comment. These are issues that we will all deal with in the coming years, and its nice to know some people care. Cheers!

  10. Interesting take on things. And since I *LOVE* to play devil's advocate, how about Fatima Muhammed, all decked out in her cover-all burqua? Assuming, for the sake of logic (not that logic often enters into legal decisions) that Fatima was forced to remove the face covering for her DMV photo, would the software be able to match her eyes to those in the DMV photo?

  11. HIPAA does not apply to entities who do not charge for service-therefore it does not apply to first responder FDs (without ambulances) or the PD.
    It also does not restrict dispatch information. If I can look up previous patients on a computerized run form, why couldn't that program be linked to a PDA or similar device on scene? We already have the ability to look up the info, but it is linked to addresses and names, not faces.

  12. You forgot to mention the part where the alleged perp's engine is automatically shut off at MC's request, to avoid another senseless high speed chase.

    That's gonna happen sooner than you think..

  13. Wake me up when we get time travel right. 100 years from now when the Bay Area is smack dab in the middle of Chinese occupied North Mexico I want to come back and stand on the Nevada-side of the border and scream "I fuc**ng told you so!" over the barb wired, or by then, LASER fence. Being right is lonely work.

  14. Actually, Google Goggles announced that the face recognition on their system is already in place.. they just wouldn't activate it because (at this time) they didn't feel it was right to do so.

    And here in our dispatcher we don't get CALPHOTO.. just the people 'that need it' It would still be nice to have the tag numbers that are supposed to be on the vehicle. We have such a high theft of tags here in our city!

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