About that PPD SUV disguised as a Google Street View car - Technical.ly Philly

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May 13, 2016 11:50 am

About that PPD SUV disguised as a Google Street View car

Alas, that “Government Spy Truck” you read about yesterday is really just the byproduct of some shoddy police work.

The vehicle in question.

(Photo via Motherboard)

Writing for Vice’s Motherboard blog, local journo Dustin Slaughter reported this morning that a white van bearing a Google Maps decal on its side was actually registered to the Philadelphia Office of Fleet Management.

But, man, wasn’t it a better story with the added menace of “Government Spy Truck,” as was reported yesterday?

Anyway, today’s spoiler alert adds some clarity.

The vehicle, parked in the tunnel beneath the Pennsylvania Convention Center, had two automated license plate reading (ALPR) cameras mounted on top. To the untrained eye, the units might have passed as standard equipment for a Google Street View vehicle, like the ones that started periodically canvassing Philly back in 2011.

The Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) admitted, in an emailed statement to Motherboard, that the van was in fact a city-owned vehicle, but that the decal was an unauthorized addition.

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“We have been informed that this unmarked vehicle belongs to the police department; however, the placing of any particular decal on the vehicle was not approved through any chain of command. With that being said, once this was brought to our attention, it was ordered that the decals be removed immediately,” a PPD spokesperson told Vice.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania released a statement this morning condemning the use of Google imagery to conduct police work.

“In today’s digital era, many people trust and rely on Google to make their lives easier and safeguard their communications and privacy. By hiding mass government surveillance under a fake Google logo, the Philadelphia Police Department has further jeopardized police-community relations at a time when they are already fragile,” said Reggie Shuford, president of the local ACLU chapter.

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