Oceania, Arizona

My little town that in the Phoenix area is apparently setting up surveillance cameras all over town, hidden in fake cacti.   This never once was discussed in any public meeting, and residents only found out about it when the cameras starting going up.

Residents were alarmed to see the cactus cameras popping up throughout the town over the last few days with no indication of what they were being used for as city officials refused to explain their purpose until all the cameras were installed.

Town leaders initially declined to even talk to local station Fox 10 about the cameras, with Paradise Valley Police saying they were “not prepared to make a statement at this time.” The network was similarly rebuffed when they attempted to get answers on license plate scanners that were being installed in traffic lights back in February.

Fox 10’s Jill Monier was eventually able to speak to Town Manager Kevin Burke, who admitted that the cameras were being used to “run license plates of cars against a hotlist database.”

When asked why officials had been secretive about the cameras, which are being placed on the perimeter of the town, Burke asserted that there was “nothing to hide” and that the cameras wouldn’t be activated until privacy concerns had been addressed.

“Shouldn’t that have been vetted before they even went up?” asked Monier, to which Burke responded, “It probably is fair.”

This appears to be part of the on-again-pretend-to-be-off-again DHS program to set up nationwide tracking of license plates.  Ugh.  Really gives a creepy Owrellian vibe to our town name of "Paradise Valley".  More good news:

The American Civil Liberties Union subsequently revealed that the cameras were also using facial recognition technology to record who was traveling in the vehicle “as part of an official exercise to build a database on people’s lives,” reported the Guardian.


  1. Chris:

    Burning tires and LED ball caps here we come!

  2. SamWah:

    Everyone wear a face mask and spray-paint the cameras.

  3. FelineCannonball:

    The NSA probably has a few divisions tasked to create federal grant programs and facilitate and encourage implementation. They've been trying since 2001 to get states to do GPS-logging of cars for "road use fees." Of course it won't be long before event data recorders with GPS are put in every car anyway.

  4. Matthew Slyfield:

    Everyone wear a Guy Fawkes mask.

    "People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people." V.

  5. TeleprompterOTUS:

    Land of the free to be spied on. Home of the chickensht politicians willing to sell anyone out for a few federal reserve notes.

  6. mlhouse:

    What I can never figure out is why you have so much worry about this? If your image is captured on a surveillance camera, big deal. There would be 168 hours of such video per week. Your appearance is a needle in a BORING haystack. The only value such video has is to find people who are breaking the law. If you are not breaking the law, you have little to fear.

  7. slocum:

    It's not video, it's license plate and facial recognition to build an easily searchable database-nothing at all like a needle on a haystack. As for 'if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear', I really don't know what to say to people who think that way. Would you be OK with opening up the database on a public Web site so you could check on the movements of all your family, friends, and neighbors? And they could keep tabs on all your comings, goings, and doings? No? But you're OK with government and law enforcement having access and trust them never to abuse that power? Really?

  8. mlhouse:

    Why would anyone want to be so bored???? Seriously, unless you are breaking the law, and then your right to privacy is limited, what would you have to fear?

    Listen, my career is based upon data analysis. I have worked with huge databases utilizing the most sophisticated (and sometimes even ground breaking) technologies. There are huge tradeoffs between the volume of data and how it can be used. The value of finding out that I drove to McDonalds versus the amount of data you need to store and the time you need to analyze ALL of the data to obtain that information makes it a very futile undertaking. It just isn't worth it in any type of granularity to make it an invasion of your privacy.

    There are only two ways that this data could be worthwhile.

    1. The value of utilizing the data is very high. Example, a detective wants to know if a murder suspect drove through a particularly area in a particular time or

    2. the data is used in such a large aggregation that makes the "invasion" of privacy infinitely small. Example, traffic studies to determine who drives to what McDonalds.

    SO, the fact is that it is even more than a needle in a haystack. It is terabyte after terabyte of data. 99.9999999999999999999999999999% of that data being absolutely worthless. At least with the needle in the haystack you KNOW that there is a needle in there.

  9. Phantom_Phlyer:

    The main question wrt license plate readers is "How long do the police retain the data." Obviously it shouldn't be forever. Maybe a couple of months max unless there's a warrant for specific plates involved.

  10. jon49:

    The reason you should care is because government is irrational and has guns and they aren't afraid to use them arbitrarily, without due process. You should ask the Japanese-Americans how they felt when the government had information about their nationality in the 1940s. There are tons of examples like these. Warren has written about this before on this blog about how it is important to protect even criminals, if need be, in the name of protecting innocents.

    I'm just using some popular example but this is rather a large subject steeped in history and, if you want to really know then you need to read some books on the subject. Read Radley Balko's blog to learn all the crazy things the cops are doing now days, or antiwar.com to read about all the crazy things the government is doing over sees, among the plethora of information out their on the abuse of government power.

  11. mlhouse:

    I think you are missing the concept of "arbitrarily" when discussing the Japanese internment during WWII.

    Again, if you are not breaking the law you have nothing to fear from this "privacy invasion".

    It is true, the government can do "irrational" and arbitrary things without the due process of the law. BUT, they can do them WITHOUT having to resort to this type of data acquisition. If the cops or government wants to randomly treat you badly, they just can go out and randomly treat you badly. They don't need to track your license plate or facial recognition software for that.

  12. Not Sure:

    Of course, if the government says they'll only keep the data for a couple of months, you can trust that's just what they'll do.

  13. Not Sure:

    "Again, if you are not breaking the law you have nothing to fear from this "privacy invasion"."

    There are only about 24 bajillion laws. Are *you* sure *you're* not breaking any of them?

  14. mlhouse:

    I break the law all the time. But the fact is, there are a lot more cost effect and direct methods of catching me in the laws I break. I just faced "law enforcement" and now have to pay a ticket. I broke one of the 24 bajillion laws. There are consequences for breaking the laws. If such surveillance helps the government catch YOU in breaking one of those 24 bajillion laws, don't break the law.

  15. Rob McMillin:


  16. Not Sure:

    That's being generous.

  17. mlhouse:

    Coward???/ Hilarious.

  18. mesocyclone:

    I finally moved out of that same little town two years ago. Their fascist behavior was really annoying... they were among the first to use photo radar in the US. I drove through there a few days ago and now they have added fixed photo radar installations, I guess to go along with their vans.

    While I lived there (25 years), I was in a tiny county island surrounded by that little town. I had to drive past their stupid radars to go anywhere. Ugh.

  19. mesocyclone:

    Sorry, I worked in the area of actually storing and retrieving that data. With Moore's law, the cost of storage and processing has been dropping exponentially. Terabytes of data are no longer a challenge. Heck, my laptop has a quarter of a TV just in its flash drive!

  20. Rob McMillin:

    Name me the crime of Mr. Freddie Gray.

    You cannot, insofar as I know, because it does not exist. Yet this is the standard to which you hold the police: they intrinsically know the law, and the rest of us do not. Your argument is intellectually and morally vacant. It is the cornerstone of police states.

  21. Incunabulum:

    The main question wrt to license plate readers is what do we get for giving up some privacy?

    So the cops *might* find and *might* (if they're feeling generous and there are no asset forfeiture opportunities at that moment) find a stolen car?

    Because that's it . . .

    What other legitimate function does a license plate reader have?

    And if we allow LPR, how long before we allow facial recognition cameras?

  22. Daniel Barger:

    Ski mask, large hammer, problem solved. If they armor them.....gasoline and a match. They may see you destroy the camera
    but if they can't ID you who cares. And they can't be everywhere at once. England has a fine tradition of trashing traffic cameras.
    We can't be outdone by them can we. Even a can of spray paint on the lens is a start.

  23. Canvasback:

    "If you are not breaking the law, you have little to fear." Hoo, Boy. You are a crackerjack! Tell it to Tamir Rice. Oh, wait - he was killed by the cops while playing in a park. Can't reassure him on that point now, can we? (Add your own examples here _________).
    The better philosophy is: If you're innocent you have more to lose. Don't give up without a fight. Surveillance, intimidation, gratuitous arrest, they're all part of the same package.

  24. Phantom_Phlyer:

    A car wouldn't have to be stolen to be involved in something nefarious. How about kidnapping and drug trafficking?

  25. mlhouse:

    I guess mess you are the expert then....ok, in your "cheap" system put a terabyte of movies on the system. Now pull for me every scene were there is a vehicle in it. Index it and keep the information so I can instantly retrieve it based upon any type of query I might need.

    The media is cheap. Storing data is not.

  26. mlhouse:

    What is vacant is between your head. Freddie Gray is no hero. He is a petty criminal who has been charged with over 20 crimes, served two years in prison before being released on parole and subsequently has broken his parole. At the time of his death he had several other criminal cases pending.

    This isn't a matter of race. Half of the police officers involved were black.

    If this is a matter of "police", then the choice comes down to having police or not. If you choose to have police there are going to be accidents and bad police officers. The world aint a perfect place, particularly on the streets of Baltimore.

  27. Rob McMillin:

    What is vacant is between your head.

    Nice. You think that one up yourself?

    Who cares what Freddie Gray's priors were? Your response is an exercise in evasion, because your sophistry invoking his priors amounts to "he had it coming". The bit about race is attacking straw men; either Gray was arrested on charges or he was being detained for no particular reason. You continue to avoid the key point here, and that is that your defense that only the guilty have something to hide is nonsense.

  28. mlhouse:

    I dot have to make up the truth.

    The "he had it coming" argument is ridiculous. He brought his arrest because he fled from the police, which is probable cause. When he was finally apprehended he allegedly had an illegal switchblade on his person.

    What is your point?

  29. Phantom_Phlyer:

    Trust but verify.

  30. Not Sure:

    Police most everywhere seem to be averse to having their actions recorded by the people who pay their salaries. Apparently, according to the "If you're not breaking the law, you've got nothing to hide" point of view, the police do have something to hide, no?

  31. HenryBowman419:

    Ski mask, can of black spray paint—that's all one needs, except perhaps for a ladder. Or, a chainsaw for the fake cactus.

    Depending on the location, it might be a target for long-range rifle practice, as well.

  32. mesocyclone:

    Sorry, but beating your challenge is getting cheaper at a Moore's law rate. Pattern recognition is an area where remarkable advances have been made in the last decade, and they continue. As I said, the cost of processing has also been dropping exponentially.

    Of course, you are perhaps positing that they are being stupid and storing the data in raw form. Being government, that's possible. But more likely they will extract the data they want before they put it into the system. And, if they want, they'll buy the storage for the raw data. That's their choice.

  33. Incunabulum:

    1. Why shold we care about drug trafficking.

    2. If you're going down the 'might be involved in a crime' route, why not allow mandate that we all wear the equivalent of a license plate? After all, you could have just been involved in a kidnapping and it would make the cops' job a lot easier if they could know who was in the area at the time. Or what about cameras installed in your home - honest, they'll only be used to prevent and solve crimes.

  34. Phantom_Phlyer:

    A license plate for citizens. Not a bad idea. So long as it was tattooed on the forehead. LOL!

  35. mlhouse:

    Pattern recognition. Whatever. The costs of having DATA is much more expensive than what you are stating. It is still incredibly expensive to have data organized in a way that makes it meaningful. While "Moore's Law" might have some data analysis corollary, it really doesn't totally apply, and one reason is that the demands for the organization of data have a balancing trend of asking for more.

    AS I have stated, if this is being done just so they can F**K with people, then it is an awfully cost inefficient way of doing so. They, meaning the police and DA GUVMENT, already can do so without the utilization of such means. If your local law enforcement guy doesn't like you and wants to harass you, they already can.

    Truthfully, the "libertarian" arguments often become such overwrought paranoia it almost becomes funny to listen to.

  36. mesocyclone:

    You are simply *assuming* that they are doing it in an awfully cost inefficient way, because you don't actually know.

    I'm not in favor of this, but you grossly exaggerate the difficulty of actually using this data.

  37. mlhouse:

    Absolutely no exaggeration. You watch too much CSI were the analysts punch a couple of keys on the computer and BAM......you match DNA and fingerprints and a blurry picture of a face into an identity in about 22.36 seconds.

    It just does not work that way. The data is messy. It needs to be properly structured. It needs to be properly indexed. It needs to be smoothed and normalized. It needs a proper user interface developed. TO get anything more out of the data otehr than routine police sleuthing requires high tech analysis and high tech (and high paid) analysts.

    Maybe someday police will be able to use data like they did on the show NUMBERS (which was idiotic, btw). But they are very far from that now.

  38. Not Sure:

    "But they are very far from that now."

    The government would like to be able to track people, but it's too hard for them to do today? So there's nothing to worry about then. Great!

  39. Bram:

    Was thinking the same thing.

  40. Captain Profit:

    "There are only two ways that this data could be worthwhile."
    It's the non-worthwhile uses that should worry you, Tex.

  41. mesocyclone:

    My comment is not informed from CSI, which has BS all over the place. It is informed from a long career in IT at levels from coding OS and database internals to architecting large scale database-based applications. That includes structuring indexing, normalizing, user interface, among many other things.

  42. mlhouse:

    How much money do you make a year? HOw many people are required to maintain your IT department? WHat was the investment in the database? How does the programming for the end users get developed? Etc, etc, etc, etc............ IT projects, even relatively simple ones, can cost in the tens of millions of dollars. I know a retailer that recently spent $50 million on a new POS system and then junked it almost immediately. IT is not cheap. Utilizing data is not cheap. It is expensive. End of story.

  43. John the River:

    Himmler would have killed for this technology.

    Which we are sharing with the Chinese...all in the spirit of Communist brotherhood.

  44. Ralph Thayer:

    You had me at "fake cacti"…