The Philadelphia Police Department has refused to answer questions about how or why it deployed an unmarked police vehicle equipped with at least one license plate reader and a bizarre Google Maps decal.
Lt. John Stanford, a spokesman for the department, repeated a statement he previously sent to Vice Motherboard, which broke the story on Thursday.
Who approved Google sticker on license plate reader-equipped car? Philly PD won’t say.
“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,” he wrote. “Once this was brought to our attention, it was ordered that the decals be removed immediately.”
Ars Technica had specifically asked if only one such vehicle was disguised as being a Google vehicle, who authorized this deployment, and whether the PPD has used similar tactics in the past. Lt. Stanford did not respond on any front.
A Google spokeswoman told Ars Technica that the vehicle is not a company car, adding, “We are currently looking into the matter.”
Vice Motherboard reported earlier that it found this vehicle after from a tweet by a University of Pennsylvania computer science professor.
WTF? Pennsylvania State Police license plate reader SUV camouflaged as Google Street View vehicle. pic.twitter.com/0z4yo2rVoR
— matt blaze (@mattblaze) May 11, 2016
License plate readers are used by law enforcement agencies big and small nationwide as a way to automatically scan, record, and analyze potentially wanted or stolen license plates. Police have long argued that they are necessary tools to catch wanted criminal suspects, while privacy advocates have expressed concern that the data collection is too broad and often is retained for years on end and is possibly also being used to gather typical driving patterns for non-targeted drivers also.
Source: CYRUS FARIVAR / Senior Business Editor at Ars Technica