Big Brother in Ft. Collins


Big Brother in Ft. Collins

Here’s the deal — Ft. Collins CO has been using an Autovu system for the past decade to enforce parking around the community. The database has millions of records of cars, license numbers, and when and where they were parked. The local paper got wind of the database and was able to search it and find where one of its reporters had been at various times over the past year. Seems that the system no only is ‘on’ when driven in the downtown area to enforce parking, but is ‘on’ all the time, so when the officers drive outside the enforcement area licenses and related data are also collected there.

The ACLU and other privacy groups are crying foul and the parking folks are saying that they are wiping the database clean after six months. Read all about it here. 

It can be added that the police don’t use this database (to find stolen cars, etc) but in other areas they do, and not only seek out missing vehicles but also vehicles ‘that shouldn’t be in a neighborhood’ to prevent crime. Wow!

The ACLU is not on my top ten of favorite organizations, but they do have a point. If this database is available for anyone to search, think of the possibilities. Spouses checking up on spouses. Bosses on employees. We could follow the mayor to see just how he spends his time (maybe that’s not so bad).

What with the NSA scandal and all, maybe its time we took a step back and rethink the morality and ethics of ‘tracking’ folks. Why is it anyone’s business just where I go or what I do?  As long as I’m not breaking any laws, shouldn’t my privacy be sacrosanct.

I think that ALPR (Automatic License Plate Recognition for you Luddites out there) is a great tool for enforcement and for other parking applications, but why is it necessary to keep the data at all. What say we collect the data and then erase it after the time required to see if cars in an area are overstaying. Keep those records concerning citations, and purge the rest daily. If the police want to search for stolen vehicles, the database of stolen cars can be searched on line in real time and only those records of stolen vehicles can be maintained.

What need is there to keep the data about where you parked for six months (as in Ft. Collins?) If you were cited, sure. but the 99% that weren’t?  Memory is cheap and mainlining terabytes of data can be done on a laptop. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

I know that there is a school of thought out there that says “If you don’t break the rules, why should you care if someone is watching.”

My answer is: “Being able to go about one’s business without looking over one’s shoulder, no matter how innocent that business is, is what freedom is all about. Isn’t it?”


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John Van Horn

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