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 Ugh: If You Drive in Los Angeles, the Cops Can Track Your Every Move

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PostSubject: Ugh: If You Drive in Los Angeles, the Cops Can Track Your Every Move   Thu Nov 15, 2018 6:13 pm

It was a particularly chilly cold case. At 1 am on November 18, 2010, officers from the Los Angeles Police Department responded to reports of gunfire in a leafy cul-de-sac near Universal Studios. They found Jong Kim lying in front of his home and shot at least five times. Kim, a 50-year-old liquor store owner, later died in a hospital without regaining consciousness.

The most promising clues were grainy surveillance images that showed a two-tone Honda Prelude with a sunroof and fancy rims, but no visible license plate. Paperwork revealed a veritable haystack of vehicles—5,000 Preludes registered in Los Angeles County alone.

Despite a $50,000 reward for information, the investigation stalled for more than a year. Then in May 2012, detectives turned to a new Automatic License Plate Reader system. ALPRs use digital cameras attached to buildings, street lights, and patrol cars to snap photos of passing cars. Computer-vision technology can determine the make and model of the car, and “read” the license plate—turning public streets into massive databases of almost every car on the road.

After looking at hundreds of photos, detectives focused on cars with the suspect Prelude’s modifications. One stood out. Although it was painted a different color in 2012, officers searched through the ALPR database and confirmed that in 2010 the car matched the surveillance video. It was enough to identify a suspect, who in 2015 was convicted of Kim’s murder and jailed for 50 years.

The analysis was made possible by software provided by Palantir, Peter Thiel’s shadowy intelligence startup. The LAPD was one of Palantir’s first local law enforcement customers, after it had cut its teeth on Pentagon, CIA, and NSA contracts. Since signing with Palantir in 2009, the LAPD has spent more than $20 million on its software and hardware. Documents obtained through a public-records request suggest at least $5.8 million of that went to ALPR technologies.

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Ugh: If You Drive in Los Angeles, the Cops Can Track Your Every Move

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