The phrase “disruptive technology” offers long since been co-opted in order to mean “a new iPhone app for people to share photos of their meals” but it comes with an original and genuine meaning as well: any kind of technology that develops faster than society’utes ability to use it positively. The list of troublesome technologies includes records as diverse as mustard gas and the car itself, but the creation of the connected globe has unleashed a diverse cornucopia of unintended effects ranging from Amazon’s damage of brick-and-mortar retailers towards the corrosive effect the various “reunion” and “classmates” web sites have on American partnerships.
TTAC has covered the world of automated license plate readers (ALPRs) several times, most recently discussing a company which helps police with accumulating outstanding court expenses and fines against motorists in traffic. We’ve also discussed the fact that governmental utilization of ALPRs amounts to a sort of camel’utes nose under the tent.
Here’s the rest of the camel.
Founded through former cocaine smuggler Hank Asher, TLO is a data-mining corporation that was purchased by TransUnion, the credit agency, a few years ago. The idea behind TLO is a fundamentally troublesome one: by using massive amounts of computer power to tie together disparate sources of legally acquired information, it’s possible to know more about someone compared to you could know by simply considering those information sources individually. The actual money-shot quote comes from Asher themself, regarding the September 11th attacks:
“You could unintentionally live next door to Mohammed Atta… You couldn’t accidentally live across the street from Mohammed Atta twice.”
The unspoken conclusion to that -??- is either amazing or utterly reprehensible, depending on where you personally get up on old-fashioned concepts like individual liberty and privacy. It’s also a good example of how massive data-crunching is excellent at establishing who someone is, or even whom they might be.
Mr. Asher is actually dead now, but his philosophy endures in the TLOxp Vehicle Sightings Data product. TLO brags that they have a billion sightings within their database and are adding fifty million sightings per month. Combined with TLO’s additional sources of information, ranging from TransUnion’utes extensive credit records to TLO’s social-media monitoring, this tool allows you to develop an extensive portrait of somebody based on a very small snippet of initial information.
What are the legitimate purposes of this data? I’m able to maybe think of 1: repossessing a car. Maybe. Nor is TLO’s self-policing stance on the data’s use in in whatever way reassuring. The company’s guidelines permit the subsequent uses:
Use in the normal course of business with a legitimate business or its agents, workers, or contractors, but only to verify the accuracy of private information submitted by the individual to the company or its agents, employees, or companies; and, if similarly info as so posted is not correct or perhaps is no longer correct, to obtain the correct information, only for the purposes of stopping fraud by, pursuing legal remedies against, or recovering on a debt or security interest against, the individual… Use in connection with any kind of civil, criminal, admin, or arbitral proceeding, in almost any federal, state, or local court or even agency, or before any self-regulatory body… Use by any insurer or insurance coverage support organization, or by a self-insured entity… Use by any licensed private investigative agency or certified security service for just about any purpose described over.
Self-regulatory bodies? Self-insured entities? Municipal proceedings? Is there in whatever way to make those loopholes bigger? And , exactly, do any of those extensively defined parties need information on someone’s physical location and travel habits? If I provide my home address to the nice people at Revzilla to allow them to ship me a new visor for my motorbike helmet, are they automatically entitled to know that park I take my son to so he can fly a kite? If somebody decides to journey on my sidewalk as well as sue me, have they got the right to know that I had been in Las Vegas 2 weekends ago?
No, the truth is almost certainly that this information will be most valuable to individuals who are likely to misuse it C and TLO probably knows this. The fact that private investigative agencies are specifically named at the end of TLO’utes dog-ate-my-homework list is all but a smoking gun. TLOxp’s ALPR system may instantly find fine needles in a billion-entry haystack. Consider the options. You’re an harassing husband whose wife has fled their state. Under normal conditions, you’d find it difficult to find her – but she has to register a car if she wants to possess a job or a life most places, as well as TLOxp can find that vehicle. So even if she’utes savvy enough to use a dropbox service or a relative for all of her credit-related activities, TLOxp can still tell you exactly where that woman functions, where she moves, where she usually spends her nights.
Is your use of the system genuine? If you’re engaged in a court continuing against her, most likely. If she’s a creditor of yours, perhaps by dint of getting away with your car, after that absolutely. If you aren’capital t engaged in a court case against her, of course, you can always start a frivolous one – and indeed, abusive spouses rank high on the lists of frivolous litigators. Or you can simply slip the private detective an extra thousand bucks. I’ve hired PIs in the past for various business-related purposes and that i have to say that none of them ever struck me as paragons of personal integrity.
It’s safe to say the laws regarding permit plates and automobile registrations in this nation were not written having a capacity like this in mind. The governmental creation of a nationwide personal-tracking database would be the sort of thing that unites all but the most hardcore statists towards it. The private creation of such a database is really a thousand times even worse, since it’s open to the government as well as to private entities, but suffers from none of the restrictions that would inevitably hamper such a thing were it to be implemented on a federal level.
With any luck, this particular truly disruptive technologies will eventually be highly regulated in the community interest. In the meantime … um, I don’t know, try not to make anybody mad at you? Email your ex-husband and plead his forgiveness? Take the subway? Just hope for the best? Make use of a homemade license-plate flipper?